KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Bernhard Langer didn’t peek at the leaderboard all week, until the middle of the back nine. Langer needed a birdie, and he delivered.
Langer won the Champions Tour’s season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship on Sunday, closing with a 4-under 68 for a one-stroke victory over Andy Bean.
“I knew had to birdie one or two holes coming in,” Langer said about the key birdie on the par-5 14th. “I figured he wouldn’t drop any shots, so I birdied that hole to go one-ahead and that was good enough.”
The 2008 player and rookie of the year had an 18-under 198 total to get his sophomore campaign off to a strong start and earn his fifth title in his 26th start on the 50-and-over circuit.
“I came into this tournament setting high goals and having high expectations, so it’s good to get off a good start,” Langer said. “If you start off struggling three or four weeks, it gets into your head and it could get worse. It’s much better this way.”
Bean, who had his second straight 66, surged into contention with three birdies on the front nine and an eagle on No. 10 but parred the final four. His 10-foot birdie try on 18, to possibly force a playoff, lipped out.
But the 51-year-old German wasn’t flinching, even with the wind kicking up. Langer, who earned $315,000 Sunday and was the only player to break $2 million last year, was patient and focused.
“I am not a machine,” Langer said. “Don’t say that. I am definitely not a machine.”
From 144 yards in the first cut of rough, Langer stuck an iron to 20 feet and two- putted to seal the victory.
The two-time Masters winner owned the back nine at Hualalai. Of his 23 birdies in the tournament, 15 of them were on the back nine.
Langer also had several spectacular saves after missing the green. He got up and down on Nos. 8, 9 and 17 to save par. He sank a 15-footer for par to retain the lead.
The wind finally picked up along the Kona coast, which was blanketed by a haze from the volcanic fog spewing from across the island at Kilauea.
And the fog seemed to follow Brad Bryant, who was in command for the first two rounds and closed with a 75 to finish tied for eighth.
After birdieing two of the first three holes to reach 17 under, Bryant built a two-stroke cushion over Langer with 14 holes remaining.
Bryant then self-destructed with a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 205-yard fifth hole that propelled Langer to the outright lead at 15 under.
“Oh no!” Bryant shouted as his tee shot sailed right, into the pond.
After taking a drop, Bryant showed some indecision. He stepped back, chatted with his caddie before hitting into the water again.
The four-stroke collapse stunned the gallery and had Bryant talking to himself.
“That was really a shock,” Langer said.
Bryant has faltered down the stretch before. Of the 10 previous final groups he had been in, Bryant has taken away just one trophy.
The frustration was evident after he pushed a 3-foot par putt on No. 11 that dropped him to 13 under. He stood on the green dejected, with his hands on his knees and head buried in his chest. It was the first of three straight bogeys.
Jay Haas, who began the day two strokes behind Bryant, also found trouble in the water on No. 5 for a costly double bogey that he wasn’t able to recover from.
Haas (70) finished alone in third place for the third time in four years at the winners-only Hualalai. Mark McNulty (67) and Jeff Sluman (70) tied for fourth, four strokes back.
However, it was Langer’s round to lose.
Langer waved his arms as his 20-foot birdie putt crawled in on the 167-yard 12th to reach 18 under for a two-stroke advantage over Bean.
The lead disappeared when Langer’s tee shot found the sand on the next hole and Bean, playing one hole ahead, tapped in for birdie.
They were both at 17 under until Langer regained the lead for good by hitting a hybrid and two-putting for birdie from 40 feet on the par-5 14th.
“It was one short of what we wanted, but all in all, it was a good day and a great week,” said the 55-year-old Bean, who also is coming off a strong year. He had a nine-stroke win at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship and also won the Regions Charity Classic.
Gary Player bettered his age of 73 for the third straight day. He shot his second straight 71 after opening with a 70, and tied for 27th.