Langer leads Senior Players Championship by 2 strokes
Bernhard Langer has parlayed a perfect blend of aggression and consistency to separate himself from his nearest pursuers on the Champions Tour this year.
On Friday, the two-time Masters champion was aggressive off the tee and consistent with his irons and putter in creating daylight between the remaining contenders for the Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
The Charles Schwab Cup leader climbed atop the leaderboard when he holed out with a wedge on the 295-yard, par-4 seventh for an eagle. With a slight breeze at his back, Langer powered his tee shot into the thick rough but he managed to make clean contact to put the ball on a perfect line.
Langer closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to post a 6-under-par 64 to give him a two-shot lead over Doug Garwood (67) and Bill Glasson (64) entering Saturday's third round. Langer's 11-under 129 total is the second best in tournament history, one shot shy of the record 128 Fred Couples posted after 36 holes in 2013 at Fox Chapel.
The only thing that could slow down Langer is a damaged driver — one that's been in his bag for two and half years. He broke the driver on the 18th tee but still managed to keep his tee shot in the fairway to set up his birdie.
“As I picked up my tee, I heard a rattle in my driver head,” Langer said. “Something broke inside the screw that holds the shaft, and I think that's broken. I have to see the guy that repairs the clubs and see if he can fix that one, or I'll have to go to my backup driver.”
The 56-year-old Langer drove the ball well, but it was his short irons and putter that has positioned him to capture his third senior major title, including the U.S. Open and British Open.
“It (damaged driver) may give us a shot,” said defending champion Kenny Perry, who posted a 7-under 63 to climb back into contention after an even-par round Thursday. “He's playing flawless golf. He's going to be a hard man to catch.”
John Riegger, who opened with a 68 on Thursday, posted a sizzling 6-under 64 to climb to within three shots of the lead, along with Joe Durant, Mark McNulty and Michael Allen, who also had a 64 to get to 8-under. Peter Fowler, an alternate, is among four golfers at 7-under and four shots off the pace.
Langer stumbled on the par-4 13th, where he collected his first dropped shot of the tournament. He put a 3-wood in the fairway, but his approach shot was affected by mud on the ball, which nested in the rough under a tree near the green. He left his second wedge shot within 6 feet and escaped with losing only a shot when double bogey appeared imminent.
The usually stoic Langer, who leads the Champions Tour in scoring average (68.25) and greens in regulation (79.76), seemed unmoved by the rare miscue. He two-putted from 60 feet on the par-4 14th, then drained an 8-footer for birdie on 15 to regain the lead at 10-under.
“I wasn't really paying attention to the scores,” Langer said. “I saw Kenny Perry go low, so I figured others could go low, too.”
Langer spun an 8-iron approach shot off the 16th green but rolled in a 12-footer for par. He missed an opportunity on the par-3 17th as a 10-foot birdie putt slid by the hole.
“It's a fine line out here controlling your spin and distance,” Langer said. “Sometimes you have to hit it 8 to 10 yards past the hole to spin it back or hit a three-quarter shot to take the spin off because of the softness.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.