By J.R. De GROOTE
Stephens Media Hawaii
Like the surf crashing to shore just a few feet away from the 18th green, Bernhard Langer came roaring into the final hole of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai on a five birdie-streak, and with an easy two-putt sealed a second consecutive day at 8-under 64 to take home the Makau trophy Sunday.
“I’m very pleased to win at the first event of the Champions Tour season,” Langer said. “I started playing fantastic on the finals six holes. I think I could have birdied the 18 but played away from the flag knowing I had the lead.”
Langer used the birdie spree to run away from a crowded leaderboard, including clubhouse leader Jeff Sluman (-19) and fellow hall of famer and final group member Fred Couples (-19). Sluman finished the day with a 65 and Couples — looking for his 10th Champions win and second in a row — had a 67.
Langer’s three-stroke victory is the largest winning margin at Hualalai since Hale Irwin won by five stokes in 2007. The 22-under-par 194 is also the best 54-hole score on the Champions Tour since Rocco Mediate shot 22-under at the inaugural Shaw Charity Classic last summer.
The win also breaks an unfortunate streak for the World Golf Hall of Fame member. Langer had finished in the top 10 in each of his last 11 tournaments, but failed to record a victory.
“It is good to have a W again after the last four or five months last year when I couldn’t do it despite playing great golf,” Langer said.
Langer played his 19th victory on the Champions Tour bogey free on the final 45 holes and recorded just a single bogey the whole tournament.
The 56-year-old German joins the short list of two-time winners at Hualalai, and it comes at an appropriate time. Langer will soak in the win while celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary today with his wife Vikki on the Four Seasons property before heading home.
Sluman put together a nice front-nine 31, but slowed down on his way in. However, Sluman was not discouraged by the runner-up finish — his best result at the season-opening event — and credited Langer for the excellent performance.
“Frankly it is a great way to start the year,” Sluman said. “You come into the first tournament not knowing what you have, having not played competitively for over two months. When you shoot 19-under you have to do some things right. I hit one good iron shot after another, hit some good putts, but today it was not quite enough.
“When I get on the plane tonight, I can know I played one heck of a tournament and I can take a lot of this the next tournament knowing I’m swinging pretty well.”
Couples remained at the front of the pack all weekend, but was stung by poor performances on the par-5s. Couples did no better than a par on both of Hualalai’s par-5s on the back-nine Sunday. Jay Don Blake, Russ Cochran, Brad Faxon, Mediate and Kirk Triplett thrived on the long holes, each going 10-under for the week. Langer was 9-under for the tournament on the par-5s.
First-round leader Mediate rebounded from a mediocre second round, shooting 5-under 67, good enough for fifth.
Defending and two-time champion John Cook (-8) finished tied for 19th., while reigning senior circuit Player of the Year Kenny Perry (-4) finished towards the bottom of the leader board, tied for 34th.
NOTES: Mark O’Meara was the only player in the field to make three eagles. Bernhard Langer’s 21 birdies were the most by a player in the field, one more than Jeff Sluman. Langer also made the fewest bogeys with just one and played his last 45 holes of the tournament without a bogey…Langer earns 307 Charles Schwab Cup points and a check for $307,000. His career earnings in seven appearances at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai now total $991,500.
The Associated Press
At Hualalai Golf Course
Purse: $1.8 million
Yardage: 7,107; Par 72
B. Langer (307), $307,000 66-64-64—194
Fred Couples (159), $159,00065-65-67—197
Jeff Sluman (159), $159,000 66-66-65—197
Jay Haas (111), $111,000 68-66-65—199
Rocco Mediate (91), $91,000 63-70-67—200
David Frost (76), $76,000 68-64-69—201
Mark O’Meara (76), $76,000 66-65-70—201
Tom Lehman (59), $59,000 67-66-69—202
Tom Pernice Jr. (59), $59,00065-70-67—202
Bart Bryant (48), $47,500 66-68-69—203
Fred Funk (48), $47,500 65-70-68—203
Russ Cochran (0), $39,000 70-67-67—204
Dan Forsman (0), $39,000 64-73-67—204
Jay Don Blake (0), $34,000 66-72-67—205
Steve Elkington (0), $34,000 65-67-73—205
Kirk Triplett (0), $34,000 70-69-66—205
Brad Faxon (0), $30,000 71-69-66—206
Loren Roberts (0), $28,000 68-72-67—207
Roger Chapman (0), $23,200 67-71-70—208
John Cook (0), $23,200 69-71-68—208
Mark McNulty (0), $23,200 76-67-65—208
Esteban Toledo (0), $23,200 69-72-67—208
Willie Wood (0), $23,200 71-70-67—208
Hale Irwin (0), $18,500 69-69-71—209
Larry Nelson (0), $18,500 70-68-71—209
John Riegger (0), $18,500 71-69-69—209
Tom Watson (0), $18,500 70-69-70—209
Michael Allen (0), $15,750 73-68-69—210
Nick Price (0), $15,750 73-67-70—210
Olin Browne (0), $14,250 72-67-72—211
Joe Daley (0), $14,250 71-70-70—211
Kohki Idoki (0), $14,250 70-70-71—211
Corey Pavin (0), $14,250 70-67-74—211
Kenny Perry (0), $12,500 72-68-72—212
Mike Reid (0), $12,500 72-69-71—212
Curtis Strange (0), $12,500 70-71-71—212
M. Calcavecchia (0), $11,500 75-74-64—213
Craig Stadler (0), $11,000 69-66-79—214
Tom Kite (0), $10,750 71-74-71—216
Mark Wiebe (0), $10,500 71-72-75—218
Ben Crenshaw (0), $10,250 76-76-75—227