DULUTH, Ga. (AP) – Bernhard Langer, a three-time Champions Tour player of the year, said he's never had a better start to a season.
Langer relied on his short game to bail him out of trouble early and he added to his impressive start to the season by shooting a 67 to win the inaugural Greater Gwinnett Championship by three strokes Sunday.
He had six birdies for his fifth top-three finish in six events. He also won the Ace Group Classic in Naples, Fla., and was the tour's points leader even before his successful three days at TPC Sugarloaf.
“I've had very good starts before but this is exceptional so far,'' Langer said. “I don't think I've ever had anything like this.''
Langer, who finished 10-under 206 for the tournament, took control with a 40-foot chip-in for birdie on No. 10.
Tom Lehman, whose 67 included birdies on 17 and 18, tied for second at 7 under with Tom Pernice Jr. Pernice made a move with an eagle on No. 15 and added a birdie on 18 for a 70.
Langer opened with a 1-over 73 on Friday before recovering with a 66 on Saturday.
“It's just gratifying to see all the hard work pay off because sometimes you work hard and it doesn't pay off,'' Langer said. “Lately it's been the more practice the better I get.''
Esteban Toledo, the second-round leader who played in the final group with Langer and Roger Chapman, fell out of contention with double bogeys on 11 and 12 on his way to a 75.
Lehman's last birdie left him one stroke behind Langer, but the German answered quickly with a birdie on No. 16 to add cushion to his lead. He lifted his hands to the fans after the birdie putt as if signaling his victory was secure.
Langer, 55, closed with a birdie on 18 – but only after he escaped trouble on the fairway rough – and then raised his visor to the fans.
Lehman, watching Langer's finish on TV from the media workroom, said “That adds insult to injury'' when Langer's third shot on 18 landed only three feet from the hole.
“The short game got me through,'' Langer said after his 18th Champions Tour victory, referring to his ability to escape trouble on 8, 9 and 10.
“I missed three greens and I was 1 under par,'' Langer said. “That was pretty cool and it kept me in the lead.''
Langer topped his second shot out of the fairway bunker on the par-5 No. 10, and his third shot rolled about 10 feet off the green. He chipped in for the crucial birdie and then kicked his left leg into the air and pumped his fist in response to the reaction from the fans as he extended his lead over Pernice and Toledo back to two strokes.
Lehman said Langer's steely response to trouble on the hole was typical.
“He doesn't get ruffled, first of all,'' Lehman said. “He doesn't let things bother him. He takes it all in stride. I think he has one of the best perspectives of anyone who has ever played the game.''
Chien Soon Lu shot 69 to finish fourth. Duffy Waldorf and Mark Calcavecchia tied for fifth at 4 under.
Chapman, who began the day tied for second, shot 75 to finish 2 under for the tournament.
First-round leader Michael Allen also finished 2 under following his 74.
Toledo, a rookie from Mexicali, Mexico seeking his first tour win, had two bogeys on the front nine and then found more serious trouble. His tee shots on 11 and 12 landed in the water, leading to devastating back-to-back double bogeys.
Langer moved past Toledo for the lead with three straight birdies on Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Toledo fell two strokes behind Langer with bogeys on No. 5 and 6.