Langer finally catches Irwin as winningest player on Champions tour

The Chubbs Classic fans were allowed to spill into the 18th fairway of the Black Course at Tiburon Golf Course  as Bernhard Langer closed in on his historic 45th victory on PGA Tour Champions.


NAPLES, FL. – Bernhard Langer now shares the honor of being the winningest golfer in the 43-year history of PGA Tour Champions. This great accomplishment was a long time coming.

In winning the Chubbs Classic on Sunday Langer notched his 45th win on the 50-and-over circuit to pull even with Hale Irwin. Irwin, who very rarely plays any more, won for the last time in 2007.  That was the same year that Langer earned his first Champions win.

And more will be coming.  The Chubbs was only the third of 28 events on the  50-and-over circuit this season so it figures Langer will have the cherished record all to himself in the very near future – maybe as soon as the next tournament.  The Cologuard Classic is just two weeks after the Chubbs, and Langer has won that Arizona event previously.

“He continues to amaze us all,’’ said Steve Stricker, one of Langer’s top rivals in every tournament.  “He just keeps going.  He stays in shape, and he’s a nice person, too.  That’s the coolest part; he’s a good guy.’’

That showed immediately after Langer’s final putt dropped at the Chubbs.  It wasn’t just his playing partners, Steven Alker and Jerry Kelly, who were quick to give Langer their best wishes. Scott McCarron, one of Langer’s fellow ambassadors for Illinois-based club manufacturer Tour Edge, waited long after he had finished his round to congratulate Langer.

Also on hand was Langer’s wife, daughter and grandson and Bobby Clampett, the long-time tour player who introduced Langer to a Bible study group.  The has had far-reaching positive effects for Langer.

Langer turned to Tour Edge clubs in recent years, and that contributed to his success.

The 36th playing of the Chubbs, again at the Greg Norman-designed Black Course at Tiburon Golf Club,  was like a home game for Langer.  He has been a south Florida resident for over 30 years and he has won the Chubbs five times.  He came into his record-tying victory as the event’s defending champion.

Moving ahead of Irwin is, of course, his next challenge but Langer wanted to savor win No. 45 first.

“It was extremely special because I never thought it would happen,’’ said Langer, who extended his record of being the oldest Champions Tour winner to four events. He was 65 years, five months 23 days old for his latest win.

Irwin got his 45 victories in 217 starts and Langer did it in his 319th.  Though the latest was officially a wire-to-wire win, it didn’t seem that way.  Fred Couples, Padraig Harrington, Alker and Dicky Pride all at least shared the lead before Langer wrapped it up with four birdies on the last five holes.

It helped that Harrington, Alker and Pride all made major mistakes down the stretch,  though Langer wasn’t really aware of their problems.

Bernhard Langer’s latest win led to a family celebration for the golfer’s mother, daughter and grandson.

“We didn’t have any problems. We were just trying to make birdies, and we did,’’ he said. “I played solid, but didn’t set it on fire.  All of a sudden I made those birdies coming in.  That’s when you have to do it, when everything is on the line.’’

Langer was tied for the lead after the first round and led by one after the second.  He bettered his age in posting a 64 on Friday and matched his age with a 65 on Sunday.  His 17-under-par 199 score for the 54 holes resulted in a three-stroke victory margin but the historic win wasn’t that easy.

Couples knocked Langer out of the lead by making four birdies in the first six holes.  When he cooled off Harrington shot 29 on the front nine to take the lead and Pride, in the field as a sponsor’s exemption, used a hole-in-one at No. 10 to also move into the top spot.

Langer wasn’t aware what was happening to them as the back nine unfolded, but it was to his benefit.

Harrington put his tee shot near a pond at No. 14 and needed three more shots to just get out of the hazard.  That led to a double bogey that doomed Harrington’s chances.   Alker threatened until putting a fairway bunker shot into the water at No. 13. That also meant a double bogey that stymied Alker’s hopes.

Pride hit his tee shot tee shot deep into the woods on No. 17 and finished bogey-bogey. That left Langer a stroll to the finish, where the gallery piled in behind him in appreciation of his accomplishment.

“My whole life has been an improbable story,’’ said Langer after the celebrating had died down.  “I should have died as a kid when I had an extremely high fever.  Doctors told my mother not to have a child, but she got pregnant anyway.  They told her to abort me, but she decided not to take a chance of killing herself and me.  We both survived.’’

Then came his start in golf.

“I was just a German kid from a village of 800 who started as a caddie,’’ he said.  “Nobody started a career in golf in Germany.  They thought I was crazy.  Just to earn a living at it was incredible.  Maybe some day we can make a movie about my life. That would be cool.’’

The  movie may take a while, as Langer has no intention of cutting back on his tournament schedule any time soon. And, in the end, those who might watch that movie could well find it hard to believe.  The Langer story might well seem too good to be true.

The thrill of victory was obvious when Langer’s last putt dropped.