On a day of shooting (and falling) stars, Bernhard Langer's familiar steady hand emerges at Chubb

On a day of shooting (and falling) stars, Bernhard Langer's familiar steady hand emerges at Chubb

By Jeff Babineau


NAPLES, Fla. – Bernhard Langer says maybe, one day, someone will make a movie about his life. Somebody should. The son of a hard-working Bavarian bricklayer who barely survived childbirth, who discovered golf as a young caddie, and who learned the swing from a sequence of Jack Nicklaus photos taped on a wall at a golf club in Germany can now add another title to his growing list.


Record holder.


Langer, 65, continued his longstanding boxing session with Father Time on Sunday at the Chubb Classic presented by SERVPRO, shooting a flawless, final-round 7-under 65 at Tiburon Golf Club’s Black Course to pull away to a three-shot triumph. Langer captured his 45th PGA TOUR Champions title in the process, tying Hale Irwin’s all-time mark.


Langer went bogeyless on a difficult day when few others avoided trouble, then put on a sensational late burst that carried him to a three-round total of 17-under 199, three shots better than red-hot Steve Stricker, who was hunting a victory in four consecutive starts, and Padraig Harrington, who made eagle at the final hole for a second consecutive day. It was Langer’s 12th victory in his 60s, and his fifth victory at the Chubb, which he also won in 2022. Only Irwin (six titles at Turtle Bay) has won a single tournament more times.


On a day that featured wild lead swings and several back-nine blowups, Langer simply stuck around with consistent play and in the end, proved the steadiest. He just kept moving forward. And now he shares a piece of golf history.


“Well, my whole life is an improbable story,” said Langer, who broke his age on Friday (64) and equaled it on Sunday (65).


Amid a leaderboard that featured such marquee names as Harrington, Stricker, Fred Couples and 2022 Charles Schwab Cup champion Steven Alker – not to mention Dicky Pride, who aced the 214-yard 10th hole and fought like a bulldog all day – Langer was hanging tough but not taking advantage of some sound iron play that produced quality mid-range looks for birdies.


At the par-5 12th, after using putter from a greenside waste area that still left him 20 feet for birdie, Langer finally got a putt to tumble in. His left edge putt was leaking right, but caught the edge of the hole and fell. Birdie. From there, he was unstoppable. He made birdie at 14, and 15 (great bunker save), and stretched his lead to two shots with a rare birdie at the 465-yard 17th.


On the final hole, facing 253 yards to the front of the green, Langer showed a champions flair, thrilling fans by hitting driver off the deck that trundled just short of the front bunker. The fellow competitors in his group, Jerry Kelly (T4) and Alker, hung back on 18 fairway to let Langer and his caddie, Terry Holt, to walk the final 50 yards on their own. 


The scene was symbolic, as those two now have won more Champions TOUR titles than any combo before them. Lager deftly chipped to inches for one last birdie at 18, with Kelly mockingly holding his hands outstretched, as if to say, “Enough already.” As clinics go, this one was thorough.


“He’s pretty timeless,” said PGA TOUR Champions veteran Jay Haas, who is 69, and won his last title at 62. “He’s the ultimate in German efficiency, I guess, and I just marvel at him, every week, every year. It’s like nothing’s changed. Everybody else gets older, but Bernhard doesn’t seem to get older. He has threatened (to win) a lot more times than many people in the last year and a half.


“He’s probably looking for 50 (victories); he’s not looking for just that one.”


One by one, contenders fell off on the back nine. Couples (70) played the 11th and 12th holes in 5 over; Harrington, got to 65 shooting 29-36, made a bad double at 14; Alker, who won four times last season by playing mistake-free golf, doubled two of his last six holes; and Pride, who shared the lead at 17, finished bogey-bogey.


Suddenly, to end a day that was incredibly close throughout, Langer finished on top by three. In the record books years from now, that margin will appear deceiving. Every inch of this one was hard-earned. That’s exactly how Langer likes it.


“It's amazing, isn't it?” said Stricker, who narrowly missed eagle at the final hole that would have cut Langer's lead to one. Stricker was attempting to tie a record of his own, matching Chi Chi Rodriguez’ four consecutive victories. 

“He continues to amaze us all." Stricker said. "He just keeps going, and he stays in shape. He's just incredible, really. 45 wins, and he keeps winning, 65 years old, shot his age this week. I don't know, there's not much else you can say about him. And he's a nice person, too. That's, I think, the coolest part is he's a good guy, a nice guy, and to see the success that he's had is pretty cool.”


With all the surrounding chatter about Langer trying to catch Irwin’s total, he was relieved to get to 45 so soon. He looked into the camera after winning and saluted Irwin as a great champion, and said they would toast soon. So, Langer was asked, how soon will he start focusing on No. 46?


“Ten days,” he answered. That’s when the PGA TOUR Champions pulls up in Tucson, Ariz. Langer won't rest for long. 


When he announced that he was going to leave home and turn professional as a teen back home in Germany some 51 years ago, people in his small German town called Bernhard Langer crazy. Now they will call him something else. A record holder.


Standing on the 18th green at Tiburon, darkness falling fast and another trophy at his feet, Langer smiled.


“Maybe someday we can make a movie about it,” he said. “It would be pretty cool.”

February 19, 2023
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