AUGUSTA, Ga.— The game teases, beckons and most of all equalizes. A 300-yard drive shows up on the scorecard as one stroke, the same as a two-foot putt. And so Bernhard Langer at age 58, 30 years older than his playing partner Jason Day — the No. 1 player in the world — is a contender in the Masters.
Langer won his first Masters in 1985, two years before Day was born. He won his second Masters in 1993, four months before Jordan Spieth was born. The ageless German shot a two-under par 70 Saturday in the third round and his 54-hole total of 215 is tied for third two shots behind Spieth.
“We’re not playing tennis or soccer or football where it all comes down to speed and strength,” Langer said Saturday. “Golf is a lot more about knowing yourself and technique. Just thinking your way around the golf course. And then execution.”
Langer plays most of his golf these days on the Champions Tour, the 50-and-over group, but it’s apparent he can compete with those of any age, even players the same age as his 23-year-old daughter. He makes up in direction what he gives up in distance.
“I’m probably 40, 50 yards behind some of these big hitters, maybe 30, but that’s a lot to give up,” said Langer. “But there still are other ways of doing it. If you hit it exactly where you want to hit if, you can still shoot under par, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
And in third round, when he had six birdies, including three in a row on 13, 14 and 15, that’s what he did.
“It was pretty cool,” said Day, the pre-tournament favorite, who shot 71 and is at 216, a stroke back of Langer and three behind Spieth. “He’s a dominant player on the Champions Tour. He was a dominant player here on the Tour. He was No. 1 in the world at one point (1986). Once again it goes to show how competitive he is. 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.”
Langer’s only weakness was putting. He missed a short putt on the 18th hole in singles on Sunday in the 1991 Ryder Cup that let the U.S. claim the crown. For years he had used the so-called anchored method, jamming the shaft of a putter against his body. In January this year that method became illegal under the rules of golf. He’s had to adapt, holding the long putter away from his body.
“I don’t talk to anybody about putting,” said Langer, “but I’ve tried all sorts of putters, different lengths, different grips. I tried this way, that way, regular, cross-handed. Some of them work pretty decent.”
Seven years ago, at age 59, Tom Watson nearly won a British Open, losing in a playoff. Langer was asked what it would mean if he or another plus-50 guy would win a major.
“It would be one for the old guys,” he said. “And it’s going to happen sooner or later.”