Bernhard Langer’s brave bid to claim his first Senior Major Championship title came up one stroke short at Oak Hill Country Club in New York State when American Jay Haas claimed the 69th US Senior PGA Championship.
The European Seniors Tour Member led by a shot going into the final round at the Rochester venue but his final round 76 for an eight over par total of 288 was good enough only for second place, as Haas’ 74 for 287 gave the 54 year old American his second victory in the championship, two years after his first at Oak Tree Golf Club in 2006. The American trio of Scott Hoch, Scott Simpson and Joey Sindelar tied third on 289.
Langer started the final round ahead of Haas and Rochester native Jeff Sluman, but quickly relinquished that advantage after a double bogey six on the first hole thanks to an errant tee shot and an approach shot which found the creek that guards the green.
It was the beginning of a tough front nine for the 2004 European Ryder Cup Captain who followed that with bogeys on the third, fourth, seventh and eighth to reach the turn in 41.
However, renowned as one of the toughest competitors in the game, the 50 year old German gritted his teeth and battled back on the inward nine, putting pressure on Haas with a fine birdie two at the short 11th. But a further bogey at the 17th gave the American the edge coming down the last and he hung on to triumph.
“I just got off to a very rough start,” said Langer. "I hit some bad shots and got some bad breaks and just didn't feel too good. Then eventually I got it back to what I am capable of playing and I tried to give it a run on the back nine. I came close, but no cigar.”
It was not all bad news for the German however. His second place cheque for €138,541 (£110,316) saw him move to Number One on the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit, the same position he still holds on the US Champions Tour Money List.
No-one in the history of the game – in either the regular Tour or the Seniors Tour – has topped the Order of Merit on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, so Langer has the chance, in 2008, to claim a unique place for himself in the annals of golf.
His next step in his quest to be Number One in Europe will come in July when he competes in The Senior Open Championship, presented by MasterCard, at Royal Troon, before he headlines the field in a new event on the European Seniors Tour – the Casa Serena Open, in the Czech Republic in September.
Langer was not the only European Seniors Tour Member to feature over the weekend in Rochester and indeed a grand total of 14 completed all four rounds, a record number of Members to feature on a Saturday and Sunday in the US Senior PGA Championship.
Included in that number were Langer’s fellow former European Ryder Cup Captains Mark James, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam alongside Italian former Ryder Cup player Costantino Rocca – all five of whom were part of Bernard Gallacher’s winning European Ryder Cup Team at Oak Hill in 1995.
Also there was Scotland’s Bill Longmuir, who won the European Seniors Tour’s first event of the season – the DGM Barbados Open in March – and his good friend Greg Norman who, in fact, harboured real hopes of winning the tournament until he dropped three shots in the last two holes to finish in a tie for sixth place, ironically three shots adrift of Haas. The Australian moved to fourth on the Order of Merit.
Torrance and Woosnam now undertake the journey back across the Atlantic to maintain their strong support of the European Seniors Tour as both are competing in this week’s inaugural Parkridge Polish Seniors Championship at the Krakow Valley Golf and Country Club.
But for Haas there was only the joy of basking in the glory of his latest triumph. His seven over par winning total might have been the highest winning score in relation to par in the history of the Championship, but he did not mind in the slightest.
“The first time I won it I was pretty amazed at my emotion and what it meant to me," he said. "I thought that one was awfully sweet, but I think this one is definitely better. Just knowing how much fun it was and what it meant to me the last time to do it again on this great golf course is to have my name on that trophy again, alongside some of the great champions of the game is something that I can take with me for a long time.”