Who needs distance? 58-year-old Langer seeking history
April 09, 2016
By Mike McAllister , PGATOUR.COM
- Bernhard Langer is hoping to become the oldest winner in major history. (Kevin Cox/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bernhard Langer was standing at his ball near the edge of the right fairway at Augusta National’s 10th hole, a downhill par 4 with a slight dogleg to the left. He had just hit his longest drive of the week, 332 yards. For a golfer who relies more on precision than power, it had to be a good feeling.
In front of him was the ball of his playing partner, Jason Day. It was 52 yards away.
This is the reality of Langer’s world at the Masters. While he can hold his own off the tee at PGA TOUR Champions events, he is rarely in the same zip code as the rest of this week’s contenders. At age 58, there’s nothing he can do to make up that distance. He is playing a different, more difficult game.
“The scorecard doesn’t show it,” he says.
Indeed. Langer enters Sunday’s final round at 1 under for the tournament, one of just four players under par. He’s tied for third with 24-year-old Hideki Matsuyama, his playing partner on Sunday. One stroke ahead is Smylie Kaufman, who’s paired with 54-hole leader Jordan Spieth in the final group. Kaufman is 24, Spieth is 22.
And Day, his Saturday partner who happens to be the world’s top-ranked player? The 28-year-old is a stroke behind Langer, who’ll become the first player 50 or older in Masters history to play in one of the final two groups on Sunday.
The kids are all around him, which makes Langer’s move toward the top of the leaderboard even more amazing. Day outdrove Langer by 50 yards or more on seven occasions Saturday; on three more holes, Day had a 40-yard advantage off the tee.
Yet it was Langer who had the better round, shooting a 2-under 70 to Day’s 71. Langer, in fact, owned the second lowest round of the day next to Kaufman’s 69.
"I would say I'm surprised except for doesn't he win most every tournament on the Champions Tour," said Spieth, drawing laughs.
“Really, really impressive to watch what Bernhard did out there today,” added Day. “Just the positions he was in compared to where I was … He just kept going along and knows his strengths and weaknesses.”
Langer also knows Augusta National. He’s won here twice, in 1985 and 1993. This is his 33rd Masters start this week, and Saturday was his 113th round. Throw in another 80 or 90 practice rounds, and his course knowledge is unmatched by anyone in the mix.
He knows where to aim, and more importantly where not to aim. He made, by his account, just two mistakes on Saturday – a poor club choice leading to a bogey at 9, and a bad shot on his drive at 18. Otherwise, his ball-striking was solid – that’s his trademark, of course – and his putting with that broomstick-but-not-anchored was spot-on.
Throw in an hole-out from off the green at 14 – his chip-in came just moments after Day had drained a 69-foot birdie putt – and it was one of the rare times Saturday when both playing partners defeated the course, which was brutally tough for the second straight day. No wonder Langer and Day celebrated together with a fist bump.
And if distance is supposed to help on the longest holes, well, Langer disproved that theory Saturday. He was the only player in the field to make birdie on each of the par 5s. Shades of Zach Johnson?
“There’s different ways of getting there, and obviously it’s a lot easier for these young guys, hitting a lot less club into some of the greens,” Langer said. “And they can stop the ball, while mine sometimes release.
“But when I play really, really good, when I bring my A game, I can still compete – even on a very long golf course like this.”
Langer not only is a dominant force on PGA TOUR Champions, he’s a big believer that one day a player from his tour will rise up and claim a major. No one has done it thus far – Julius Boros is the oldest major winner, age 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship – but Tom Watson nearly did it at age 59 at the 2009 Open Championship.
“He was extremely unfortunate not to win that tournament, but it’s just how it ended up,” Langer said. “It’s going to happen. One of the over-50s is going to win a major. We have guys right now – Davis Love, Vijay Singh, Fred Couples – these guys are still long enough to compete on any golf course.”
Langer shouldn’t be long enough to compete at Augusta National. But here he is, perhaps the best lurking position. Skeptics may remain because of his age and length, but don’t underestimate the German native, who now lives in Florida.
If he’s shown nothing else since turning 50, know that he is voracious winner. He’s won 26 PGA TOUR Champions events, and is four-time Player of the Year. He knows how to finish. Day, his playing partner, saw that first-hand on Saturday.
“To be able to be a 58-year-old man, be competitive with us and want it as much as he did 40 years ago is pretty impressive,” Day said.
Spieth, though, can't afford to look at the big picture. From his perspective, Langer is just another player he needs to beat on Sunday.
"He's a force to be reckoned with, and you can't think of it being his age," Spieth said. "... He's just another competitor who's fully capable of shooting a really solid round and winning this tournament again, which would be something afterwards.
"But while it's happening, I've got to expect that he's going to come back tomorrow and play a strong round. I think it's really cool what he's doing, but again, I find it hard to say that it's surprising."
But what would it mean if Langer can complete this improbable trip on Sunday? If he does become the oldest major winner?
Langer has the answer. “It’d be one for the old guys.”
Bernhard Langer comments after round 3 of the Masters