Bernhard Langer stuffed his tee shot on the par-3 16th to within a few feet of the flag, turned and began to encourage the crowd at TPC Sugarloaf to cheer.
Even though there were two holes to play, with that shot Langer clinched the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship. Langer made the short birdie to put him two shots ahead of Tom Lehman, who had just birdied 18 to get within one, and then followed with his own birdie on the 18th to post a 10-under 206 to finish three shots clear of the field. Those birdies followed a momentum-changing chip earlier in the round on No. 10.
It was Langer’s second victory on the Champions Tour this year and 18th in his sixth year on the senior circuit. He has at least one win on the Champions Tour in every year since he began playing on it in 2007.
“When I first set foot here at Sugarloaf, I really enjoyed the golf course,” Langer said. “It reminded me of Augusta. I was fortunate enough to play well on the weekend.”
Lehman made things interesting by birdieing three of the last four holes to reach 7 under. He said had he been better on the greens on Saturday instead of needing 35 putts, Sunday’s outcome may have been different.
“Lot of mistakes early in the week that cost me but I played very well today,” he said.
Despite his charge, Lehman seemed resigned to finishing second, telling his caddie to put the clubs in the rental car after watching Langer put his second shot in the fairway on No. 18. Lehman earlier credited Langer’s approach for his victory.
“He doesn’t get ruffled,” Lehman said. “I think he has one of the best perspectives of anybody who has ever played the game. He tries out every shot and if it doesn’t go his way, he’s able to say, ‘You know what, it just didn’t go my way.’ But if he knocks it in the hole he says, ‘Yep, that’s why I practice.’”
Langer said he’s not sure he’s as relaxed now as he used to be, but he had one of those moments and shots on No. 10, a shot that may have propelled him to the win.
Langer’s drive on the 560-yard par-5 landed in a fairway bunker. He topped his second shot, leaving it in the sand. His third rolled through the green. Instead of letting his emotions get the better of him, he chipped his fourth shot in from 40 feet for a birdie to reach 8 under. This after watching Esteban Toledo fail to get his chip, from a similar spot behind him, to the green.
“It was huge,” Langer said. “He was through the green in two and I was through in three. It could have been a one- or two-shot swing (in his favor). It turned into a one-shot swing in my favor.”
Langer’s wedge game was solid all day. He hit precise chips to save par on Nos. 8 and 9, holed the chip on No. 10 and almost holed a bunker shot for another birdie on No. 11. His wedge on 18 landed within three feet of the pin for the easy birdie. Langer said playing Augusta National last week in the Masters sharpened his short game.
“Way to add insult to injury,” an impressed Lehman said before wishing everyone a good night and heading to the airport.
Other than Lehman, Langer had few challengers on Sunday. Toledo, who called Sunday one of the biggest rounds of his life because he had never won on the PGA Tour or Champions Tour, started well with birdies on Nos. 2 and 4 to keep pace Langer, who birdied Nos. 3, 4 and 5. But Toledo started to waver with bogeys on Nos. 5 and 6 and fell out with double-bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12. He shot 3 over to finish 3 under, tied for seventh.
Tom Pernice Jr. birdied No. 10 to reach 6 under. But he double-bogeyed No. 12 to fall to 4 under. He bounced back to eagle 15 and reach 6 under. He reached 18 in two but missed his eagle putt to finish 7 under.
Langer is on quite the run. In addition to his two victories, the other coming at the ACE Group Classic, Langer has two second-place finishes and a third. He will team with Lehman later this week in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf in Savannah.
“This is exceptional so far,” Langer said. “I’ve never had anything quite like this.”