Langer makes late charge at Schwab Cup finale
Legend was eyeing fourth consecutive Schwab Cup trophy but comes up just short in Phoenix
November 12, 2017
By Randy Youngman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
- Despite not winning the Schwab Cup, Bernhard Langer is still the leading contender for Player of the Year. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
PHOENIX – The 2007 New England Patriots went undefeated in the regular season, became the first team in NFL history to go 18-0 – and then lost in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants, a wild card team.
The 2001 Seattle Mariners set an American League record by winning 116 games – but never made it to the World Series. They lost to the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series.
The 1973 Boston Celtics set a franchise record with 68 regular-season victories – but lost to the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
And Bernhard Langer, the most dominant player on PGA TOUR Champions in 2017 – the runaway leader on the money list and season-long points list – won seven tournaments this season, including the first two Schwab Cup Playoffs events . . . but did not win the Schwab Cup.
That’s the playoffs.
“That’s the system,” Langer said.
Sometimes, it’s not how many you win; it’s when you win, as Kevin Sutherland demonstrated Sunday.
Winless in his first 77 events on PGA TOUR Champions, Sutherland chose the biggest stage on PGA TOUR Champions to win for the first time, capturing the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship by one stroke at Phoenix Country Club. He shot a final-round 66 to finish at 15 under, one ahead of Vijay Singh and Lee Janzen.
Sutherland also won the gleaming Schwab Cup trophy for finishing first on the points list, resulting in the biggest payday of his career: a $440,000 first-place check and a $1 million bonus for winning the Schwab Cup.
Despite shooting a torrid 6-under 30 on the front nine Sunday to get back in contention, Langer finished in tie for 12th at 10 under in the Schwab Cup finale and settled for second on the points list, good for a $500,000 bonus. It ended his streak of three consecutive Schwab Cup trophies, but it was the sixth consecutive year he finished first or second on the points list.
That’s how dominant he has been during his 10 years on PGA Tour Champions.
After two rare off days in the first two rounds left him tied for 22nd going into Sunday’s final round, Langer got hot before the leaders even teed off.
He birdied Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9 to move all the way up to seventh as he made the turn. His putter cooled off on the back nine, with birdies on Nos. 11 and 18 and his lone bogey on No. 17.
“I played great all day,” Langer said. “I hit two bad shots – on the same hole, No. 17, when I drove it into the (fairway) bunker and then caught it a little heavy (on his approach) and didn’t get up and down. But I played extremely well the whole day. I had (birdie) opportunities most of the back nine, but the putts just wouldn’t go in.”
Because he began the day nine shots out the lead, did Langer have a plan on what he needed to do make a run at the leaders?
“No, because of the (playoff) system, you don’t what the others are doing and so I just tried to go as low as I could,” he said. “That’s all I could do.”
By design, there is a points reset before the Schwab Cup finale to give more players a chance to win during the final weekend. The top five on the points list – in order, Langer, Scott McCarron, Kenny Perry, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Sutherland – each had the opportunity to win the Schwab Cup by winning the final event. Everyone in the 36-player field had a mathematical chance to win, depending on how the leaders played, and Sutherland seized that opportunity.
“I think the playoffs have exceeded our expectations,” Greg McLaughlin, president of PGA TOUR Champions, said Sunday. “It’s created excitement at the end of the season . . . and the players have embraced it.”
For the record, Langer was on the board that approved the playoff system, which he readily conceded Sunday. “We voted for it,” he said. “We said we were going to try this out.”
And if everybody still loves it the way it is, he says, “I’ll submit to the majority.”
What no one can dispute is that Langer was the best player on PGA TOUR Champions this season – by far. He won seven tournaments, including three majors, upping his career total to 10 major victories, a Tour record. He also had 13 top-3 finishes and 16 top-10s in 21 events and finished the season with $3,677,359 in earnings – another Tour record.
Sutherland won the Schwab Cup, but it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Langer will be voted Player of the Year by his fellow competitors for the seventh time, to go along with his ninth season money title in 10 years, including six in a row. He also finished first in scoring, first in putting average, first in greens-in-regultion and first in birdie average.
“It’s been incredible to have that many Player of the Year (honors) and that many money lists – almost every year I’ve been out here,” he said. “I could pinch myself. I am really thankful and grateful for what I’ve been doing out here and how God blessed me with the gifts and talents he’s given me.”
It’s obvious that golf fans appreciate Langer’s talents and accomplishments, too. As he approached the 18th green on Sunday, the fans in the grandstands stood and gave him a warm ovation. Even playing partner Kirk Triplett applauded as he stood on the back of the green.
“It was very nice,” Langer said. “Most people recognize how the year’s been for me, and it’s very gratifying. I appreciate it.
“Kirk was extremely nice, too. He told me I should walk up alone and enjoy the moment. But I said, ‘No, let’s go together. You knock in your putt for eagle, and I’ll make my birdie. Let’s give them something to cheer for.’ ”
And that’s what they did. Triplett drained his eagle putt, and Langer finished another record-breaking season with another birdie.
What’s next for Bernhard Langer in 2017?
“Lots of time off,” he said. “Put the clubs away for a few weeks, then play in the PNC Father-Son in about five weeks, then take another two or three weeks off for skiing and Christmas. Then it’s time to get back to work and get ready for (the season-opening tournament in) Hawaii.”
He’ll probably be the player to beat in the Schwab Cup Playoffs again in 2018.