Bernhard Langer of Germany captured his 38th European Tour title and his first for four years when he beat England’s Warren Bennett at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off at Noordwijkse to lift the TNT Open for a third time.
Langer, 43, conjured up an eagle and four birdies in the closing eight holes to catch Bennett, who led by two strokes with three holes remaining. Langer closed with a 66 to Bennett’s 67 for a 15 under par total of 269.
At the first hole in ‘extra time’ both players found the 18th green in regulation but whereas Langer made his regular par four, Bennett charged his first putt to win the title and missed the resulting four foot return.
It was the victory which Langer had craved in his bold attempt to qualify for a tenth Ryder Cup appearance in September, and he secured it, as Bennett so rightly observed, “in the style of a champion”.
Langer covered the last nine holes in 30 to Bennett’s equally impressive 31 to emphasise the steely qualities which have characterised his play on The European Tour for the best part of 30 years. In the end, he would not be denied the 64th win worldwide which now opens so many doors in the remainder of the season.
The resilient German won 300,000 euro (£182,917) to climb from 14th to eighth in the Volvo Order of Merit and from 14th to seventh in the Ryder Cup points list. That elevation promoted a phone call from Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, Sam Torrance, immediately after Langer was presented with the trophy for the third time in three different decades.
“Sam was on the phone to congratulate me on making the team” smiled Langer, who with 942,785 points sits above Colin Montgomerie and 172,563 points in front of Paul McGinley, who occupies tenth and last automatic place.
He added: “It’s been a great few weeks obviously. I played well to finish eighth at The K Club and I was in the last pairing at the Open and now here. It’s nice to be back in contention and to be in the Ryder Cup side at the moment – and hopefully for good!”
Langer’s next counting event is the US PGA Championship in Atlanta and it now seems improbable that he can be forced out of the top 12 in the Ryder Cup table which is the cut-off point for entry into the WGC-NEC Invitational the following week.
The battle between Langer and Bennett, 14 years his junior, provided spectacular entertainment for the huge crowds who swarmed over the sandy dunes of the magnificent Noordwijkse course.
It seemed the young Englishman, who considered quitting the game exactly a year ago due to a long-term neck injury, was destined to deny Langer of the spoils when he birdied the tenth and eagled the 11th after a superb approach.
However Langer’s doggedness has been his trademark over the years and that quality shone through again. He also eagled the 11th to stay within two shots of Bennett, who had led after the three rounds with scores of 68-67-67.
Langer, who had opened with scores of 69-67-67 to be one behind, almost knocked out the pin with his approach at the 13th, which he promptly birdied. However a bogey following a erratic drive at the 14th could have put paid to his chances. In the event, he had to make a ten footer to drop just one shot.
At that juncture is was a case of ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ as Langer rose to the challenge. He holed from eight feet at the 15th to match Bennett’s birdie then switched into overdrive, holing from 12 feet and 20 feet at the next two holes to catch the leader.
Both men parred the 18th and headed back to the tee. This time it was Bennett who faltered with his three putts from 25 feet, but he had nothing but admiration for the way he older rival had chased him down.
“I am pleased for Bernhard. I hope he does the Ryder Cup proud, and I’m sure he will” said Bennett. “He played like the champion he has been over the last 20 years or so. I had a two shot lead but he played fantastically and holed some great putts. I am proud of myself, apart from the disappointment of finishing with three putts, but he was great to play with.”
A third figure entered the equation in the form of Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez. The 1999 Ryder Cup player actually held the outright lead on 12 under par after chipping in at the 13th, but a bogey at the next and a series of agonising missed birdie opportunities over the remaining holes left him in third place. He now occupies 11th spot in the Ryder Cup table, just 29,131 points behind McGinley.
The highlight of the final day was a marvellous 63, eight under par, by Denmark’s Anders Hansen, who came home in 29 to post a total of ten under par which delayed his departure home until he became clear that the battle truly belonged to Bennett and Langer.