Langer sputters but prevails at Constellation Senior Players Championship

Edges Sluman in playoff for third different senior major



It won't matter to Bernhard Langer that what he did on the final day of the Constellation Senior Players Championship will not hang in his personal gallery of masterpieces.

It won't matter that he made just as many bogeys in the final round as he did the first three days at Fox Chapel Golf Club. Or that the three-shot lead he carried into the final round was gone after seven holes.

Or even that the birdies he was making with great frequency dried up faster than a two-day-old pork chop.

When it was all over Sunday, all that mattered to Langer, 57, is that he won his third different major title on the Champions Tour, and he did it by beating Jeff Sluman on the second extra hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Langer made a 4-foot birdie putt at the par-5 18th to end the playoff and save himself from an uncharacteristic, if not embarrassing, collapse.

"You just got to be patient in this game," Langer said. "I had a nice lead to start and I really didn't play that badly."

After beginning the day with a three-shot lead and making birdies on two of the first three holes, Langer actually had to come from behind to win the Senior Players Championship. And that was because of an ordinary final-round 70 that included making a mess of two of the easiest holes on the course.

Langer finished at 15-under 265, even though it appeared he might fritter away the championship when he began the back nine with a bogey at No. 10 and a double bogey at No. 12 when he one-hopped a lob wedge into the back bunker. The 344-yard 12th played as the fourth-easiest hole of the tournament with a stroke average of 3.863.

That came on the heels of a distressing bogey at the 295-yard seventh when Langer decided to lay up with a 5-iron off the tee and pitched a wedge to the back collar. The par-4 seventh played as the second-easiest hole (3.732) for four days.

"Those two holes I had a sand wedge and lob wedge in my hand and I'm 3 over from the middle of the fairway," Langer said. "That was really digging myself a hole."

But he made two long birdie putts -- a 40-footer at the par-3 sixth and a 50-footer at the par-3 17th -- that ultimately saved him from an embarrassing collapse.

It was Langer's third victory of the season, the 21st of his Champions Tour career and increased his lead in the Charles Schwab Cup race to 883 points.

"It was a bit of a roller-coaster day," Langer said. "I got off to almost a dream start and I looked very comfortable and solid at that point."

Sluman, who shot a bogey-free 65 to get into the playoff, thought he won on the first extra hole when his 10-foot birdie putt slid over the right edge at No. 18.

"I'm not going to hit a better putt than that," said Sluman, whose playoff record on the PGA Tour (1-6) and Champions Tour (0-3) slipped to a career 1-9. "It just didn't go in. I think everybody [thought it was in], including Bernhard. He said he couldn't believe it didn't go in."

What was expected to be a shootout between Langer and Kenny Perry instead turned into a meltdown by each of the Champions Tour's top two players.

It was a surprising tumble by Langer, a former-two-time Masters champion. He made only one birdie on the back, but it proved to be a big one -- a 50-footer with 4-feet of break at the 231-yard 17th that tied Sluman and forced the playoff.

And it was an equally stunning fall by Perry, who had won three of the past four majors on the Champions Tour and was trying to become the first repeat champion since Arnold Palmer in 1985. Perry bogeyed four of the final 11 holes, including three in a five-hole stretch, after starting the final round with five birdies in the opening nine holes.

He shot a final-round 69 to finish fourth at 13-under 267.

Russ Cochran, who birdied three of the final six holes to shoot 67, finished third at 266.

"With Kenny in there ... and Bernhard, he's an unbelievable player ... you're really not expecting those guys to shoot around level par," said Sluman, a six-time winner on the PGA Tour. "I thought they would shoot 2-, 3-, 4-under par themselves."

Sluman, who began the day five shots behind Langer, was the benefactor of the surprising tumble of Langer and Perry. Sluman, the 1988 PGA champion, jumped into a share of the lead when he made a 6-foot birdie at No. 14 and Perry made his second bogey in a row and third in six holes after driving into the rough at the par-4 13th.

But he didn't know he was tied for the lead until he looked at the scoreboard after a 6-foot birdie putt at the 422-yard 16th. It was a stunning ending for the tournament, which concluded its three-year run at Fox Chapel.

"You look at Bernhard with the lead, he's got five shots on you, anyone in the field would have taken the opportunity to go to the 73rd hole with him," Sluman said.

*

NOTES -- Mark Calcavecchia withdrew after eight holes because of a back injury. ... Bob Gilder, 63, made five birdies and an eagle to shoot his age and post the low round of the day.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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