SNOQUALMIE, Wash. – When Bernhard Langer stood on the 10th tie at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge on Sunday, he was tied for 14th place, six shots behind Boeing Classic leader Gene Sauers.
Ten holes later, Langer was lifting the championship trophy for the second time in his Hall of Fame career.
Even by its own wacky standards, the final round of the latest Boeing Classic was one wild, crazy ride for a typically large number of players in the Champions Tour field.
But there was nothing atypical about the way it ended.
The sixth playoff in the event’s 12-year history was decided by yet another winning putt by Langer. He birdied the par-5 18th hole for the second time in less than an hour to defeat Kevin Sutherland and Woody Austin on the first playoff hole. All shot 13-under 203 over 72 holes.
It was Langer’s 29th career win on the Champions Tour, tying him with Lee Trevino for the second-most victories behind Hale Irwin’s 45, and he surpassed the $2 million mark in earnings for the eighth time during his nine-year 50-and-over career.
He turned 59 years old on Saturday – and celebrated on the back nine Sunday.
“Things were not going my way,” Langer said. “I kind of plugged along, hit some good shots, some not so good. To make a long story short, I was 1-over after nine, which was not good overall. (But) I had a different swing-thought after my tee shot on No. 8 that went way right into the bunker.
“I realized what I was doing wrong. So from the ninth hole on, I started hitting some real good shots.”
That he did – and promptly rattled off birdies on the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th holes to put him back in the championship picture. He also birdied the 16th and 18th holes, finalizing a dazzling 6-under 30 on the back nine.
“You never know,” he said of his 10th-tee mindset. “This game is so crazy. I’ve seen just about it all. I blew tournaments when I had a lead and I’ve come from seven behind, so you just never know.”
The fact it was Langer putting on a show of shows is less surprising than, say, most of his senior competitors and for much of the late afternoon, Sutherland was the big story.
He started the day seven shots behind Sauers and went on a back nine birdie binge just like Bernhard.
Sutherland birdied five of the final nine holes for a nifty 31 and the lead at 13-under.
Langer, playing one group behind Austin and four groups behind Sutherland, joined a playoff that was assured when Austin birdied the 18th, by doing the same thing – thanks to a superb bunker shot.
“I thought the shot I had in the bunker was impossible,” Langer said. “I didn’t think I had a prayer.”
The ball landed on the fringe, rolled to within about five feet of the hole, and when Langer made the ensuing putt the largest playoff of the Champions Tour this season was all set.
Sutherland had the longest wait, almost an hour, among the playoff competitors.
“I warmed up and was fine,” said, who was oh-so-close to his first career PGA victory. “I don’t know how long it was, exactly, but that had no impact at all. I didn’t get the ball in the fairway, and if you don’t get the ball in the fairway, it kind of makes it a little harder to make a birdie.”
Austin came up short in regulation, largely because of a decision he made on the 15th hole.
“I got aggressive on (No. 15) because I hadn’t made a putt on the back nine and I figured I was behind (when in fact he was tied for the lead). “The (electric) scoreboards weren’t working so I didn’t know where I was at, but I figured Gene would shoot under par today so I figured I was still behind. “I hadn’t made a putt yet on the back nine and I knew my two best chances were 15 and 18. I made a gamble on 15, and I lost.”
He wasn’t the only loser.
Sauers started his day with back-to-back birdies, giving him a 4-shot lead. But the deft touch he had shown from the get-go, went bye-bye on the back nine, turning the Boeing Classic into another memorable horse race down the stretch.
“I didn’t hit that many good shots,” said Sauers, who finished with four bogies on the back and in fourth place., one shot shy of making it a four-way playoff. “I didn’t make any putts today. I didn’t make anything. It was one of those days, I guess.”
Joe Durant, who played in the final group with Sauers and Tom Byrum, had the most miserable day of the threesome, mostly because of his second shot on the par-4 third hole. He pulled it to the left and his ball drilled a woman spectator sitting near a green-side bunker.
She needed medical attention to relieve the pain and puffiness on her forehead.
“You hate it when you do it,” Durant said. “It’s unsettling. I haven’t done that in a long, long time. That’s by far the worst. I have never actually clocked somebody in the head. I’ve hit arms and legs, but never like that.”
Durant’s ball caromed almost directly backwards, into the bunker. He left his next shot in the sand and bogeyed the hole. He also had a bogey on No. 6.
“I was just a wreck for about four holes,” he said. “You don’t know if she’s OK and you can’t find out.”
The final group was a collective 1-under for the day. Sauers and Durant each shot even par while Byrum finished with a 1-under for the round and tied for sixth in the tournament.
“I didn’t have a handle on my golf swing all day, and my putter let me down,” Byrum said. “That has been the strongest part of my game all week. But you know, when I started the week I probably would have taken where I am right now. But after the first two days, I thought I would play a little better.”
Defending champion Billy Andrade (74-69-71) tied for 37th place while John Daly (71-71-69) tied for 21st.