January 26, 2009

Langer Provides Spark at Senior Opener

Is Bernhard Langer's victory in Hawaii the first of many in '09?

The Champions Tour keeps waiting for someone to have a certifiably monster year along the lines of Hale Irwin, who won nine times in 1997. With a victory at the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, Bernhard Langer provided some evidence that he could be the guy.

Langer, voted player and rookie of the year by his peers after a three-win 2008, was peerless at Hualalai GC in Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii, taking advantage of Brad Bryant's final-round meltdown to finish at 18-under 198, one stroke ahead of Andy Bean, for his fifth career senior title. "I came into this tournament setting high goals and having high expectations, so it's good to get off to a good start," Langer said. "If you start off struggling three or four weeks, it gets into your head and it could get worse. It's much better this way."

The 205-yard, par-3 fifth hole got into Bryant's head in the final round. The 36-hole leader by one over Langer, he led by two coming to the watery, windy fifth. But Bryant, who now has won once in 11 chances when playing in the final group, made a quadruple bogey en route to a 75 that dropped him to T-8.

After Bryant's blunder, it became a chase between Langer, Bean and Jay Haas, who finished third, three back of Langer. Bean eagled No. 10 and added birdies at Nos. 13 and 14 but came up empty thereafter, including a 10-foot birdie chance on the 18th after a nifty 103-yard wedge approach from a fairway bunker.

Langer's two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th gave him a one-shot lead over Bean, and following a six-foot par save on the lava-rock guarded 17th, a routine par on the home hole was enough.

Larry Nelson, who won six events in 2000, is the last senior to win more than five times in a season. Langer, 51, has the potential for that kind of year, but he downplayed the image of himself as a robo-golfer. "I am not a machine," he said. "Don't say that. I am definitely not a machine."