SAMMAMISH, Wash. – Bernhard Langer shot a final round 3-under 67 and took advantage of Fred Couples’ critical mistake to complete a daunting trans-Atlantic double and win the U.S. Senior Open championship Sunday.
Coming off a victory at the Senior British Open last week at Carnoustie, Langer finished at 8 under for the tournament, fighting off jet lag and a partisan hometown crowd hoping Couples could pull out victory just 20 miles east of where he grew up.
Just like a dozen years ago when the PGA Championship was played at Sahalee Country Club, it wasn’t to be for Couples.
Tied with Langer starting the day, Couples birdied the opening hole before his undoing on No. 2, a par 5 and the easiest hole on the course. Couples plopped his third shot in the greenside pond and by the time he walked off with a triple bogey, he was in chase mode.
Langer didn’t let him catch up.
Couples, who was runner-up at the Senior PGA Championship earlier this year, finished three shots back with an even-par 70. Olin Browne (65) and John Cook (67) were tied for third at 2 under.
Langer became the first German to win any U.S. Golf Association championship and the first Champions Tour player to win back-to-back majors since Tom Watson took the Senior British and JELD-WEN Tradition.
But Watson didn’t travel eight time zones and win his titles on consecutive weekends like Langer, and with more than 30,000 fans rooting for his playing partner.
It was Langer’s fourth Champions Tour title this year. And he did it in almost Ryder Cup conditions, tied with Couples starting the day and with the crowd urging on Couples with every step he took.
But match play is never as penalizing as the second hole was to Couples.
The second hole had yielded the most birdies all week and played Sunday with a back right pin placement and the pond in front. Couples laid up on his second shot, giving himself about 65 yards to the pin with his third. His wedge sounded thin and went into the water nearly 20 yards short of the pin.
After dropping, Couples hit his fifth over the green, pitched his sixth back on and missed the double bogey putt. Suddenly a one-shot lead for Couples was a three shot deficit, when Langer tapped in his birdie putt on the second.
And every time it appeared Couples had an opportunity to make up a shot, Langer countered. He snaked a long birdie putt at No. 3 after Couples hit his second shot close and added another birdie at the sixth, a 480-yard converted par 5.
Meanwhile, Couples failed to get any putts to drop. He had birdie putts at every hole between Nos. 4 and 13 and failed to get any to drop, even though very few were within 15 feet. Couples finally made birdie at the 14th – from the fringe – to close within three. He added another, curling in a 25-footer at No. 16 to give hope of a late rally, but his tee shot at the par 3 17th went long and Langer made par after flirting with the pond on the right of the green with his tee shot.
Langer went without a bogey in 44 of his final 45 holes.
Only once did Langer appear to wobble and he got a fortunate bounce similar to Vijay Singh when he won the PGA here 12 years ago. Langer’s tee shot on the 11th was pulled well to the left and into some of the thousands of trees framing Sahalee. Instead of dropping into the deep rough, or kicking to the left and out of bounds, Langer’s shot deflected into the middle of the fairway.
In 1998, Singh found the trees on the 11th hole with his second shot, a 3-wood, but kicked on to the green where he two-putted from 30 feet for birdie en route to the championship.