Langer's major success continues at U.S. Senior

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July 14, 2012
Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

LAKE ORION, Mich. -- It was vintage Bernhard Langer. Meticulous, precise. And very efficient. How efficient? Nine birdies worth.

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The man in the back of the Media Center raised his hand and said, "I have a question."

"Wait your turn," Langer responded.

The man in the back persisted.

"You didn't answer my question," Corey Pavin said. "How do you make nine birdies out there?"

Pavin, looking unsuccessfully for trade secrets, chuckled. Langer smiled, and why wouldn't he after a 6-under-par 64 Saturday at Indianwood Golf and Country Club?

Langer is at 10-under 200 through 54 holes for a 4-shot lead over five golfers at the 33rd U.S. Senior Open. Believe it or not, it would have been much better except for a hiccup at the 13th hole. Still, the 64 marked Langer's best-ever score in a senior major championship.

Pavin (68) is joined at 204 by Tom Pernice, Jr. (66), Roger Chapman (68), Tom Lehman (68) and John Huston (68).

"The only difference really was just I made some putts," Langer said. "I probably played worse than I played the first two days. The first two days I made very little, and I guess the course owed me some. I made a bunch of putts today.

"It was really fun. Hoping to go really low and then made an error on No. 13."

Langer, three-time Champions Tour Player of the Year (2008-2010), has been a major marvel since the 2010 Senior PGA Championship. He has not finished out of the top 12 in a senior major in 10 starts and has won twice - the Senior British and U.S. Senior Open in back-to-back weeks in 2010.

In the Senior British at Carnoustie, Langer had a 3-shot lead after 54 holes over Pavin, who closed the gap to a single shot. In the two previous major championships this year, Langer -- a winner 14 times on the Champions Tour - tied for second at the Regions Tradition and tied for fourth at the Senior PGA Championship.

Langer's performances are in no way a surprise. He's among the elite on the Champions Tour. This is a major. The best play big when it matters most, and Langer is in his element.

"Without being big� headed, I think I'm one of the better players out here the last three or four years," Langer said. "I've won the Schwab Cup. If you do that, you've got to play well. If you can win normal tournaments and be in the top five or top 10 on a regular basis, you ought to be doing fairly well in the majors too because the majors are even harder.

"The better players, I think, will separate themselves even more from the average player in the majors because conditions are usually tougher. But I still think I could and should have done better in the majors. When I look back, I wish I'd won four or five, but I haven't yet. I'm working on it because time is short."

Nobody among his peers disputes Langer's status on the Champions Tour.

"Bernhard is that type of player," Pavin said. "There are a lot of guys out here who can do that. He's missed four greens this week. That's pretty amazing. And he's very precise. That's how you play well in major championships. He didn't win two Masters by luck, and whatever else he's won out here. He's won a ton. He's an exceptionally good player, very methodical and this type of venue is a very good one for him."

Langer, 54, is zeroing in on his first victory in 17 months, dating back to February, 2011, when he won the ACE Group Classic. He won that title despite an injured left thumb suffered during a freak offseason biking accident. He finally had to make the decision to have the damaged ligament surgically repaired and it kept him out of action from late March until mid-June.

He has played in 22 Champions Tour events without a victory since the last triumph. That's double, in terms of tournaments, his longest previous drought -- 11 events from late 2010 to, ironically, the ACE Group Classic.

This year, Langer's golf has been nothing short of outstanding but hasn't produced a victory. Nine times in 11 starts he has finished in the top 10. He has finished runner-up three times and third twice. Langer opened with three straight birdies and shot 30 on the front. He started the more difficult back nine with three more birdies. He reached 8-under for the round after a birdie on the 490-yard par 4 12th, the most difficult hole on the Old Course. The only slippage came at the 219-yard par 3 13th, where Langer missed the green and then missed a short bogey putt.

Langer's lead is the largest at the U.S. Senior Open since Bruce Lietzke had a 4-shot lead after three rounds in 2003 at Inverness Club in Toledo. Lietzke went on to win. Langer's birdie haul was the biggest since Russ Cochran matched it at the 2009 U.S. Senior Open at Crooked Stick. Langer is trying to become only the second foreign-born player (Germany) to win multiple U.S. Senior Opens. Gary Player of South Africa won in 1987 and 1988.

"I can tell you this much," said Fred Couples, who is 5 shots back after a 65. "(Langer's) not going to come back (Sunday). So whoever it is, Corey and whoever, is going to have to play a remarkable round to win."

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