Bernhard Langer, the ageless one – though his Florida driver’s license states he is 65 – will enter Sunday at the Chubb Classic with a shot at history, looking to tie Hale Irwin’s mark for all-time PGA Tour Champions victories (45) at Tiburon Golf Club’s Black Course.
Langer won at Chubb a year ago and already is the oldest winner in PGA Tour Champions history, having won last fall’s TimberTech Championship after his 65th birthday. With winds blowing steadily beyond 15 mph during Saturday’s second round in Naples, Florida, Langer had to work hard for his 2-under 70, and will take a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round over a quartet of players.
Langer stands at 10-under 134, a stroke better than 2022 Charles Schwab Cup winner Steven Alker (65), Jerry Kelly (66), Dicky Pride (70) and Paul Goydos (71). At 8-under 136, two shots back, are Fred Couples, who shot 69 despite bogeys at two par 5s on Saturday, and Steve Stricker (69), who is seeking a record fourth consecutive PGA Tour Champions victory.
In all, 10 players will begin the final round within three shots of Langer. Sunday could be wild.
“To win with this kind of leaderboard, you’ve got to play a near-flawless round of golf, I think,” Langer said. “You’ve got to have a pretty low score, one of the lowest scores tomorrow, and that’s got to be my goal.”
A day after coasting to an opening 64, making eight birdies, Langer had to fight for a number on Saturday. A bogey at the par-4 11th hole left him at level par for the round, but he edged back ahead down the stretch with birdies on two of the par 5s (12 and 15) on the back nine. He failed to birdie the 533-yard closing hole but will sleep on a one-shot advantage. Pride and Couples each got to double-digits under par at one point but did not finish there.
“It was tough. The wind was gusting anywhere from 10 to 25 mph, it seemed, so it was hard to grab the right club at the right time, and challenging pin positions at times,” said Langer, whose iron play was not as crisp as it had been a day earlier.
“Whenever the wind is blowing that strong and you have a little bit of sidespin or something, or even straight into the wind, I came up a couple of times short, a couple of times long. The targets are small here, so it punishes you pretty quick.”
Langer has won the Chubb four times, on multiple courses. A fifth victory at the Chubb would be the second-most victories by any Champions player at a single event; Irwin, the man whose record Langer will try to run down on Sunday, won the Turtle Bay Championship in Hawaii six times.
Alker, 51, was the top performer on the PGA Tour Champions in 2022, winning four times. He used Friday’s first round to sort through his thoughts and emotions following the sudden passing of his caddie, Sam Workman, to liver cancer on Feb. 6. The two had worked side by side for four years, and won five tournaments and a Charles Schwab Cup together in the past 16 months.
Alker got off to a torrid start on Saturday and never let up. He made 3s on his first five holes. Four of those were birdies, and when he added another birdie at the par-5 sixth, he was in for a good day. His 7-under 65 was Saturday’s lowest score.
The only bogey of Alker’s day (against eight birdies) came on the par-4 seventh hole, where he three-putted.
Alker was pretty emotional throughout his first round, as he competed with Workman’s 2022 Houston Astros World Series Champions cap on his head and shot 69. Saturday, he and substitute caddie Troy Martin, a winning caddie last week with Stephen Ames in Morocco, worked their yardages, picked the right clubs and put together a solid effort.
“You just miss the small things that Sam said, and did,” Alker said. “But yeah, it was just nice to get through that Friday. I think the hardest thing was just getting my thoughts clear and trying to hit the shots, and it wasn’t quite there.”
Alker, Kelly and Langer will play in the final threesome on Sunday.
As a youth, Langer made his way through the caddie yard in Germany, a country not known for golf. He was self-taught, and put together a career that produced two Masters titles as well as a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame. To tie an all-time Champions Tour victory mark Sunday, and then pursue setting his own all-time mark, would rank right up there.
“Anytime you do something that hasn’t been done, it’s an achievement and something special, and this certainly would be,” Langer said when asked about Irwin’s record. “When I came out here and I saw Hale Irwin’s 45 wins, I’m going, wow, that’s incredible. I don’t see that will ever be broken kind of thing.”
And now Langer is one great round from joining him.