Tom Watson may be the man making a sentimental journey to Carnoustie next month but Bernhard Langer is looking as though he is going to be the man to beat in the Senior Open Championship at the Angus venue.
Not only is the German returning to the scene of his 2010 victory in the same event but, at 58, he is enjoying a remarkable run of form, even by his ridiculously high standards. In winning the Constellation Senior Players Championship for the third year running in Philadelphia on Sunday, Langer took his haul of over-50s majors to seven, adding to a brace of Masters victories.
He’s won three of the last five Senior majors, having also claimed the Regions Traditions in between his latest two successes in the third of those events on the calendar out of five.
Next up is the Senior Open Championship on 21-24 July, when Langer will undoubtedly start as the tournament favourite as he bids to repeat a hard-earned victory over Corey Pavin six years ago.
“It feels great to have achieved the hat-trick in this tournament,” he said of his latest victory, which took his career haul to 101 after he reached the century milestone with that Regions Tradition triumph in Alabama last month.
“When you keep winning, confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence. When you’re constantly up there, it’s like when Tiger (Woods) was up there almost every time he teed it up, he’s used to that. You get used to the pressure, you get used to being in the hunt and you get used to winning.”
Langer, who holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to hold off Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez and American Joe Durant for a one-stroke victory at Philadelphia Cricket Club – Colin Montgomerie finished joint-13th – is now tied for third on the PGA Tour Champions victory list with 28, one behind Lee Trevino. Hale Irwin leads with 45.
“Well, he’s Bernhard Langer, you know?” observed Jimenez. “He’s a top-class player for many, many years. He’s an outstanding player. Still very fit, still strong, still passionate about golf.”
So, too, is Watson, who has confirmed that he will be joining Langer at Carnoustie, the scene of his first Open Championship victory in 1975, next month. “I have vivid memories of that first visit to Britain,” recalled Watson. “I remember flying into Edinburgh with John Mahaffey and Hubert Green and our wives and driving to Carnoustie. I was excited and wanted to play, but Keith Mackenzie, then secretary of the R&A, told us the course was closed to us, whether we were exempt or not.
“He was very apologetic and offered to fix us up with a game at Monifieth, so that was my first look at the famous links turf. It was hard as a rock that year and really fiery. I hit my first shot on a links course straight down the middle and somehow lost my ball. I dropped another and kept walking – then found my first one 50 yards to the left.
“I have to tell you I didn’t like it one bit! I wasn’t happy with blind shots and unlucky bounces which could derail your round. However, I managed to put it behind me, even though I didn’t care for this type of golf. I was just fortunate that I was playing well and there was little wind that year. That Open was a steep learning curve for me.”
It helped him win five Open Championships and now he is looking forward to trying to record a fourth title triumph in the Senior equivalent. “I still love to compete,” said the 65-year-old. “That’s the buzz. I felt I played pretty well in my last Masters at Augusta, shooting 74 and 78, and I hope to be in good shape when I get across to Scotland.”