ENDICOTT, N.Y. (AP) — Since it became a stop on the Champions Tour eight years ago, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open has not had a repeat champion. Bernhard Langer is ready to change that, even without daughter Christina helping call the shots.
“It’s possible. Anything is possible,” Langer said as he prepared to begin defense of his title on Friday, a day after his 58th birthday. “But it’s not that easy of a golf course. You’ve got to drive it extremely straight and hit some great shots to stay out of trouble.”
Langer rallied to the victory last August at En-Joie Golf Club, playing all 54 holes without a bogey and closing with a 6-under 66 for a one-stroke victory over Woody Austin and Mark O’Meara. Langer finished at 16-under 200.
“It was a phenomenal week,” said Langer, third in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. “It was even more special because my daughter was on the bag — her first win with me on the professional circuit and grabbing the flag a little bit prematurely on 18. That was all my fault. I had a little senior moment, told her she could do it, forgot there was another group behind me that was still playing.”
Langer’s daughter had two back surgeries in February and isn’t strong enough yet to be on the bag again. She’ll be replaced by her brother Stefan.
Langer’s 23rd career victory last August on the 50-and-over tour came a day after Kevin Sutherland stunned the field with a 59, becoming the first player in Champions Tour history to break 60. It could have been even better, if not for a three-putt bogey from about 40 feet just off the 18th green.
“That was a pretty unusual round,” said Langer, who is coming off a runner-up finish on Sunday in the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. “To beat the course record by four shots, that’s a pretty amazing feat. The players are getting better, stronger and hit the ball further.”
The 59 gave Sutherland a one-shot lead over Steve Lowery heading to the final round, but he had a closing 74 to fade to a tie for seventh at 12 under.
Langer, who won the Senior Players Championship in June and finished just one shot behind Billy Andrade at the Boeing Classic last weekend, continues to excel as he inches closer to age 60. His Dick’s Sporting Goods Open victory last year was his third triumph in five starts, and this year he leads the Champions Tour in scoring (68.91).
“I’d like to be a little better,” Langer said. “I missed a couple of tournaments early in the season, then played a couple of events where I didn’t play quite as well as I wanted to.
“It’s been a decent year, just not quite as good as the last couple.”