Bernhard Langer’s chances of catching Jordan Spieth to win his third green jacket and become the oldest major champion are probably a long shot at best, but don’t tell that to the 58-year-old German and longtime South Florida resident.
Despite a bogey at the 18th, Langer’s round of 2-under-par 70 and 1-under 215 over 54 holes at least left him only two shots off Spieth’s lead of 3-under and tied with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama for third. Spieth gave many of his closest pursuers renewed hope when he finished his own 73 with a bogey and double bogey.
“I believe I can,” Langer said when asked if he thought he could win on Sunday, even before Spieth’s late disaster. “If I play my best, I can shot 4- or 5-under, if the conditions are a little better. But so can Jordan Spieth or any of the others on the leaderboard, so it all depends on how the other guys do. I’m probably 40, 50 yards behind some of these big hitters … but there’s other ways to do it.”
Langer, a Masters champion in 1985 and 1993, was pleased to make a clear statement for the 50-and-older crowd with his spirited and even inspirational play Saturday. He was one of only four players in the field to be under par after 54 holes. Only five players managed under-par third rounds. He will play with Matsuyama in the final round.
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Langer, who lives in Boca Raton, has been dominant player on the PGA Tour Champions circuit since he turned 50. He also insisted he’s always believed a player in his 50s would have a chance to break the record of oldest major champion set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.
Langer’s rousing round was a direct result of his fabulous play on Augusta’s par 5s. He birdied all of them and, as an added bonus, he chipped in for a birdie at the 14th hole from 40 feet, minutes after playing partner Jason Day holed a monster 70-foot putt. When Langer’s ball went in the hole, the two high-fived and exchanged fist pumps, delighting the crowd.
Langer also got several standing ovations from the galleries and said “it’s a lot of emotion because you get goosebumps. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere out there, and when the people acknowledge what you’ve done, it’s pretty neat.”
An amateur player has never won the Masters, and 22-year-old Californian Bryson DeChambeau almost certainly will not change that statistic this week, even if he started the third round four shots off the lead. After three-putting from five feet for double bogey at the 18th, he signed for a 77 that took him out of contention.
He’s at 5-over 221 after 54 holes and tied for 23rd place, a lock for the medal and other hardware that goes to low amateur in the field. Despite his shaky play Saturday in some of the worst of the windy conditions, the current U.S. Amateur champion nevertheless has made quite an impression in his first Masters appearance.
He uses irons that all are the same length, a rarity at this level for many years, and his upright swing is unorthodox as well. Nevertheless, the results speak for themselves.
He’s the reigning NCAA champion but will not have a chance to defend later this spring because he’s turning pro next week and playing the Heritage event at Hilton Head on the PGA Tour.
He’s also brimming with confidence. Asked after his round Friday what he’s learned at Augusta National this week, he didn’t hesitate.
“I belong,” he said. “I’m loving it out here.”