Saturday, February 24, 2018
Golf

Bernhard Langer in position to be oldest major winner

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the 30th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus' final Masters victory, another ageless blond is making a run at the green jacket.

This one would be even more remarkable.

Bernhard Langer, 58, used all his wits and guile to shoot 2-under 70 on another challenging day at Augusta National on Saturday, giving himself a shot today at becoming the oldest major champion in golf history.

Leader Jordan Spieth — who was born almost four months after the second of Langer's Masters victories in 1993 — was still on the course when the German finished out his stunning round on a bit of a downer, making bogey at the 18th after an errant drive left him behind a giant magnolia tree.

But Spieth finished with a double bogey for 1-over 73, putting Langer just two shots behind at 1-under 215 and playing in the next-to-last group today with Japan's Hideki Matsuyama.

"I would say I'm surprised, but doesn't he win almost every tournament on the Champions Tour?" Spieth said of Langer.

Not quite, but he does have 25 victories since joining the 50-and-over tour in 2008.

Now, going against a bunch of guys young enough to be his kids, Langer was positioned to beat the record for oldest major winner by a full decade.

"I believe I can," he said. "If I play my best, I can shoot 4 or 5 under."

Julius Boros was 48 when he captured the PGA Championship in 1968. Nicklaus remains the oldest Masters champ, taking his sixth title at 46. And it was Nicklaus who contended again one final time at Augusta in 1998, at roughly the same age as Langer, before settling for sixth.

"I've been saying it's going to happen sooner or later," said Langer, mindful that two other players older than 50 — Davis Love III and Larry Mize — also made the Masters cut.

"Guys like Davis Love and Vijay Singh and Fred Couples are long enough to win the majors. I'm not quite at their distance, but I try to make up for it in other areas."

LOTS OF SMYLIE SMILES: Smylie Kaufman still lives at his parents' Alabama home, has a loyal following at tournaments that often consists of mom or dad and has eaten dinner every night this week at his family's Augusta rental. He plays the Masters on Xbox, but now Kaufman is challenging at the actual Augusta National.

The 24-year-old rookie — yes, he's two years older than Spieth — was beaming after his 3-under 69 shot him up the leaderboard heading into the final round. It was the low score of the day, and he was one shot behind Spieth at 2 under.

Nobody has won in his first Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

"The golf course plays really hard," Kaufman said. "I tend to play well on hard golf courses. I'm driving the ball really well right now, and if I'm going to get on the greens just as much as everybody else, I think that I'll have a pretty good opportunity to be in contention, which it doesn't surprise me."

Kaufman was named after his grandmother's cousin Smylie Gebhart, a 1971 All-America defensive end at Georgia Tech. Gebhart was paralyzed in an accident and died two decades later in 2001.

A FIRST FOR JAPAN? Hideki Matsuyama goes into the final round two shots off the lead after shooting par 72, giving him a shot at becoming the first male Japanese player to win one of golf's biggest championships. He understands that a Masters victory would be more than just a personal achievement. "We have a women's tour in Japan that is very, very popular," Matsuyama said. "Hopefully a major win would give more popularity to the men's tour."

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