Bernhard Langer has spent a career on the PGA Tour Champions defying logic; just three weeks ago he became its oldest ever winner when he grabbed his 42nd senior title. But on Thursday at Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the 64-year-old marvel found himself succumbing to an all-too-familiar ailment for a 64-year-old: a balky back.
Early in Thursday’s opening round, Langer felt spasms, the same sensation that initially occurred during the pro-am round on Wednesday. He awkwardly bent over to tee up his drives and had caddie Terry Holt pull his ball out of the hole on several greens. Gingerly, Langer made his way around Phoenix Country Club, shooting an impressive three-under 68 given the circumstances to sit just three off the lead.
“It was a miracle I made it through,” Langer said. “I was very close to pulling out on the third hole.”
If he wasn’t in the hunt to win a record sixth Charles Schwab Cup season-long points title, Langer probably would have WD’d. But now the question is will he be healthy enough to get through the final three rounds and keep the lead he carried into the final event of the 2020-21 super season?
“It was the most pain I’ve had playing golf in 30 years,” Langer said. “It was pretty bad. I told Terry I probably shouldn’t even be here right now, but somehow I started praying out there that the pain would subside, and I managed to make it through. But it’s not good. Not sure I can do this for four days. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.”
With a T-6 finish or better, Langer can claim that sixth Schwab Cup. Unless, that is, Jim Furyk wins the tournament proper, in which case he would earn enough points to pass Langer for the season-long race, too. (Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els also can win the points title with a victory in Phoenix and help from Langer and Furyk.)
As it turned out, Furyk got off to the start he needed on Thursday. Playing in the same final threesome with Langer, the 2021 U.S. Senior Open winner shot a six-under 65 to share the lead with Phil Mickelson and Kirk Triplett.
“Overall, I hit the ball extremely well today,” Furyk said. “Hit a lot of great iron shots, a lot of birdie putts inside of six feet, was able to convert on those and was able to put myself in a good position after Day 1. A little longer event for us this week in that it’s a four-round event instead of a three, so just kind of be patient all week and get ready to go for four rounds.”
Mickelson can’t win the season-long points title but if he wins the tournament proper, he would join Jack Nicklaus as the only golfer to claim four titles in his first six senior tour starts.
“I really had a lot of fun today,” Mickelson said. “The course is in such pristine shape and to play a golf course where you can play some holes aggressive, there are a few parallel fairways, I like that. It allows me to be a little bit more aggressive and play to some safer areas. … I also feel like I wasn’t as sharp as I have been and that I think there’s a really low one in there the way I’ve been playing. This was a good, solid start, but I’m excited to get back out here and make another run at it.”
That won’t help Langer’s back any.