Former Masters Champ Langer Leads at Augusta

By Associated PressOctober 12, 2007, 4:00 pm
Champions TourSPRING, Texas -- Bernhard Langer found his putting touch.
 
Langer shot a 10-under 62 on Friday to take a four-stroke lead after the first round of the Administaff Small Business Classic.
 
Langer, the German star playing his fourth Champions Tour event since turning 50 on Aug. 27, needed only 24 putts to match the best round of the season on the tour. He had a 43-foot eagle try on the par-5 18th, but settled for his 10th birdie of the day.
 
'The big difference today was the putter,' Langer said. 'I made a few putts today, which I hadn't been doing the last few weeks. It was a good putting round. If I could putt something like this or something similar, I'd be happy the rest of my life.'
 
The two-time Masters champion broke the Augusta Pines Golf Course record of 63 set by Jay Haas last year in the second round.
 
'When you get my age, you don't get many course records,' Langer said.
 
Texan Tom Kite, winless in his home state, pulled within three strokes of Langer with a birdie on the 17th hole, but his bogey on 18 dropped him into a tie for second at 66 with Mark McNulty, Craig Stadler, Tom Jenkins, John Ross and Jeff Sluman, who birdied the final three holes.
 
'You look up at the leaderboard and realize you'd better put something up there or the whole world is going to pass you,' Sluman said. 'You never complain about a 66. I hit a few where it could have been a little bit lower. But I'm happy where I am.'
 
Mark O'Meara gave his round a boost with an 8-foot, par-saving putt on the eighth hole and made three birdies on the back nine for a 67. Tom Wargo, Jerry Pate, Eduardo Romero, Bob Gilder, Fuzzy Zoeller, Lonnie Nielsen and Andy Bean also shot 67s.
 
Langer tied the course nine-hole record of 30, holing an 18-foot birdie putt on the first hole and a 15-footer for eagle on the second. He added birdies of 15, 6 and 15 feet on the front nine and finished with birdies on four of the final five holes.
 
'I felt I could read these greens well,' Langer said. 'I felt I could read the green, I could see the speed and putting is all about speed and reading the greens. You can hit the wrong speed and you'll never make a putt. I was very pleased with that today.'
 
Langer made no dramatic changes in his putting.
 
'I did the same thing I've been doing for 10 months,' Langer said. 'I've had good putting weeks this year and that's why I've had a lot of good tournaments. It's just the last two or three weeks I haven't been putting like I'd like.'
 
O'Meara birdied three of the first four holes but he went into the rough and bogeyed the par-4 seventh hole. He credited his par-saver on the next hole with getting his round going. He had long birdie putts at 14 and 15 and two-putted from 32 feet on the final hole for his sixth birdie of the day.
 
O'Meara has 16 PGA Tour victory, but he's winless since joining the Champions Tour this year.
 
'You've got to pay your dues,' O'Meara said. 'Just like I had to pay my dues on the PGA Tour and now I've got to pay my dues on the Champions Tour. I'll keep on working and put two more solid rounds together and have a chance on Sunday.'
 
Defending champion Haas, trying to regain the Charles Schwab points lead from Loren Roberts, shot a 69. John Cook also opened with a 69 in his tour debut.
 
Haas led the Charles Schwab point standings for 19 weeks, but Roberts took the lead with last week' s victory in the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship. Haas is 161 points behind Roberts. A victory in the Administaff would give the lead back to Haas with two tournaments remaining -- the AT&T Championship and the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
 
Haas started the week with $2,431,321 in earnings this year. He's trying to become the second Champions Tour player to reach $3 million in season earnings. Hale Irwin won $3,028,304 in 2002.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.