Bernhard Langer sounded like a lot of 55-year-olds might after playing 24 holes in one day at TPC Sugarloaf on Saturday. Not many would have shot 66 over the last 18, however.
“Right now I’m pretty tired,” said Langer, who had Saturday’s low round in the Greater Gwinnett Championship. “My knees are aching from all these hills.”
But it was not just the hills of Duluth that were taking a toll on Langer. The two-time Masters champion, also played eight rounds, including practice, at Augusta National last week. And he played the last four quite well, getting to within two strokes of the lead before slipping on the back nine Sunday to finish 25th.
“I’ve been struggling with my knees for about a year and a half now,” Langer said. “All these hills, I’m really paying the price walking.”
Langer was one of 57 Champions Tour players who had to complete their first rounds in frigid temperatures early Saturday morning. Only 24 players were able to finish the opening 18 holes Friday because of inclement weather.
Langer was in the lead when he left the golf course Saturday. Champions Tour rookie Esteban Toledo came through later and shot 70 to get to 6 under and take a one-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round. Mark Calcavecchia, Roger Chapman and Tom Pernice all share second place with Langer at 5 under.
But most eyes will be on Langer on Sunday. He entered this week’s tournament as the No. 1-ranked player on the Champions Tour. He has recorded a win and four top-10 finishes in five events this year.
Langer came to Duluth with a streak of 21 rounds of par or better, but he shot 73 after bogeying his final two holes, 8 and 9, in the first round.
“I don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff,” Langer said of the streak. “I’m here to try to win tournaments and play the best I can, not for the record books.”
But Langer turned it around in the afternoon. His 6-under round featured seven birdies, including three in a row on Nos. 13-15. He reached the par-5 18th hole in two and two-putted for another birdie.
Asked what the difference was in the two rounds, Langer cited his attire.
“It was just easier to swing the club without having so many clothes on,” said Langer, whose day began with temperatures in the upper 30s. “I was layered up. I was just happy to take the waterproof pants off and shed a layer on the first tee in the second round. The sun came out, and that was nice.”
Langer’s situation could not be more different than that of the 36-hole leader. Toledo’s only win as a professional golfer came on the Web.com Tour. He had the 54-hole lead once in his journeyman’s career on the PGA Tour and lost to Tiger Woods in the Buick Open in 2002.
“Tomorrow’s probably going to be the greatest challenge in golf for me,” said Toledo, a native of Mexicali, Mexico, who started on the Champions Tour last fall. “I feel great about it. It’s going to be real exciting, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Michael Allen held the first-round lead after shooting 5 under and was still in the lead three holes into the second round before having to call a two-shot penalty on himself on the fourth hole for moving an embedded pine cone. Allen made double bogey on that hole and on the next hole as well, but rallied to shoot 73 and is tied for sixth at 4 under.
“It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t made double on the next hole,” Allen said with a laugh. “But that’s just how it goes sometimes.”
Meanwhile, Langer just hopes this Sunday goes better than the last one did. In Augusta, he was very much in contention to become the oldest player to win the Masters until his tournament became unraveled around Amen Corner. He made double bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13 en route to a final-round 76.
“You just replay the tape in your mind, what I did and the breaks I got and all that kind of stuff,” Langer said. “I really didn’t play that bad, everything just went against me. … It was fun being into contention. I took a lot of good from that tournament.”