BERNHARD Langer admitted he’d “felt like Jean Van de Velde” after letting a second Senior Open title slip from his grasp as the resumption of his play-off with Mark Wiebe at Royal Birkdale saw the American claim victory at the fifth extra hole.
After darkness had halted the shoot-out following two halved holes at just before 9.45pm on Sunday night, the pair were back on the 18th tee at 8am yesterday morning and still hadn’t been separated after playing the same hole twice more.
Langer, who’d thrown Wiebe an unexpected lifeline by running up a double-bogey 6 at the 72nd hole after holding a two-shot lead, missed from around 15 feet for a birdie first time around before both players were unable to get up and down from the same greenside bunker on the next visit.
As the decision to play the same hole over and over began to look like a mistake, Langer was left regretting that uncharacteristic slip-up of the previous evening – he’d knifed a shot from a greenside bunker into the face and left it in the sand – as Wiebe secured an unlikely win.
Yet it was also deserved as the 55-year-old from Oregon set up a solid par by finding the green with a low draw after Langer had left his approach short of the left-hand greenside bunker, from where the two-times Masters champion was unable to save par from a bare lie.
Typically, Langer, who’d also led heading into the final round at Turnberry 12 months ago but failed on that occasion as well in his bid to repeat a 2010 success at Carnoustie, was both philosophical and gracious in defeat. “Mark played a great week of golf,” he said. “We know he’s a great putter and he’s hit some really good shots this week.”
Inside, however, the former Ryder Cup captain was hurting like hell over a clubbing decision that led to his costly finish on Sunday night, undoing the good work he’d put in over the previous 71 holes on the demanding Lancashire links. It is believed Langer, a man renowned for his accuracy, wanted to take an iron for his second so as not to flirt with any greenside bunkers only to be talked into hitting a rescue club by his long-time caddie, Terry Holt.
“It was really my tournament to win or lose coming down 18 on Sunday and I made a major error by taking on the green,” he added. “It almost felt like Jean Van de Velde [the Frenchman blew a three-shot lead on the last hole of the Open at Carnoustie in 1999], if not quite. But that was certainly a bad error and shouldn’t have happened as experienced as I am.
“But, in the heat of the battle and due to the long delay – we had two rain delays, as you know – the mind and the brain doesn’t always work 100 per cent right.”
Langer admitted the error had preyed on his mind as he tried to get to sleep on Sunday night. “But I was focused on what I had at hand today,” he insisted, before flying out to Germany for this week’s Berenberg Masters in Cologne then, following a week off, his mother’s 90th birthday.
The celebrations have already started for Wiebe, who missed the cut in his only two appearances in the Open Championship but hasn’t missed the Senior version since becoming eligible, finishing alongside Langer in joint-sixth at Turnberry last year.
“I’m speechless and shocked, too,” admitted the two-time PGA Tour winner. “I just planned on Bernie making that putt on the fifth extra hole and I actually was wondering already what hole we were going to go to now. Do we go back to 18 or do I start on a new hole?
“I think it’s always better for both players had there been a birdie to win the play-off instead of a bogey, but right now, I don’t really care. I’m glad it’s over, and I’m honoured. I just was luckier today and last night than Bernie I guess. I also feel like Bernie has won, what, a couple hundred tournaments. He’s won so many, I feel like this was my turn.”