Kupelian: Old knees won't stop Langer from major rebound

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Bernhard Langer is one shot back at the Greater Gwinnett Championship.
April 20, 2013

By Vartan Kupelian, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
DULUTH, Ga. -- The mental tape was rolling. In his mind’s eye, Bernhard Langer played and replayed the back nine at the Masters.
The results didn’t change. Langer, ever-so-close to something truly special, was betrayed by the back nine at Augusta National Golf Club.


It’s not clear what pained Langer most, that betrayal of a course he’s had success on as a two-time Masters champion, or his knees after 24 holes Saturday at TPC Sugarloaf.
Langer completed the first round of the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship on an unseasonably brisk Saturday morning by playing six holes. He finished those holes bogey-bogey for a 73 to end a streak of 21 consecutive rounds at par-or-better on the Champions Tour.
Langer wasn’t happy with the bogey-bogey finish. “How did you guess?” he said.
 It wasn’t a guess.
And his displeasure wasn’t with having a streak broken. Langer isn’t about records. He’s about results and history, and that’s why what happened at Augusta National just a few days before was still with him. There is another reason: TPC Sugarloaf has reminders everywhere of Augusta National.

“This reminds me more of Augusta than any other course in the world,” Langer said.

There is a proviso. “This place plays short compared to Augusta. At Augusta, I usually wear out my long irons and medium irons,” he said. “Here, I get a bunch of 9-iron and 8-irons in, and a couples of wedges.”

Langer used that advantage to rebound and shoot a second-round 66 for a 139 total.

Esteban Toledo, looking for his first Champions Tour victory, leads with rounds of 68-70—138. Roger Chapman (68), Tom Pernice, Jr. (68), and Mark Calcavecchia (71) share second place with Langer.

Langer, the Masters champion in 1985 and 1993, put on a final-round charge last Sunday at Augusta National. With almost all of the attention among the over-50 set on Fred Couples’ chances, Langer reeled off three straight birdies to start. He got to 5 under and within 2 shots of the lead with the final groups still to tee off.

Langer’s dream ended with back-to-back double-bogeys at the 12th and 13th for him to lament. The 7 at the dogleg 13th hole was particularly galling.

“I hit a great tee shot and maybe the best hybrid all year,” he said. “The ball hit a little twig and I made 7. If the ball doesn’t clip that tiny thing, the way it was climbing, I’d be putting for eagle and definite birdie. Just that kind of thing … and I got punished.

“You have to get over it. Sometimes you get good breaks, sometimes you get bad breaks.  It was fun being in contention. I take a lot of good away from that tournament because I played well for three-and-a-half rounds. It’s just the last nine I was very aggressive, just paid the price.”

Langer’s final-round 76 left him at 290 and tied for 26th. It didn’t take Langer time to recoup. TPC Sugarloaf, like Augusta National, puts a stress on the physical side of the game. They are difficult courses to walk. Langer, 55, walked 24 holes Saturday, plus the steep hill from the 18th green to the clubhouse, and said, “Right now, I’m pretty tired. My knees are aching.”

But there will be no anti-inflammatories. Langer doesn’t go there. “Let the body heal itself,” he said.

Instead, he’ll count on another spring day and warm temperatures when the sun rises Sunday. When the thermostat heated up Saturday, so did Langer’s game at TPC Sugarloaf.

“I was just glad to take the waterproof pants off and shed a layer of clothes on the first tee,” he said. “The sun came out and it got warm, so that was nice. I was able to swing the club the way I’m used to. It’s just easier without that many clothes on.”