Bernhard Langer has a chance to join rare company on the Champions Tour.
The Jeld-Wen Tradition begins Thursday in central Oregon, and Langer is going after his third consecutive Champions major in the tour’s fourth of five majors this year.
Earlier this summer, Langer won the Senior British Open and U.S. Senior Open in consecutive weeks.
Gary Player is the only player in Champions Tour history to win three consecutive majors. He won the final two of 1987 (Senior Players Championship, U.S. Senior Open), and the first major of 1988 (Senior PGA Championship).
A victory at Sunriver’s Crosswater Club would have Langer joining Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win three majors in a single season. In 1991, Nicklaus won the Senior PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open and Tradition.
“I’m coming in here obviously trying to win and play as well as I can,” Langer said. “I’m not coming in to break records.”
Perhaps the Champions Tour record book isn’t incentive, but this may be: a berth on Europe’s Ryder Cup team. Europe Captain Colin Montgomerie recently said he was considering the 53-year-old Langer as one of his captain’s picks.
“If he gives me a call and he think I’m the one he wants on the team to strengthen the team, then I will most likely be ready to go and be excited about it,” said Langer, whose last Ryder Cup competition was 2002. “If he feels he has three guys that are better than me, I’ll accept that, too.”
Langer, who tied for 17th and seventh in his previous two Tradition appearances at Crosswater, wasn’t certain about the state of his game. Langer said he spent most of last week resting, recovering from an illness.
A field of 68, including 39 of this season’s top 40 money-winners, will challenge Langer for the Tradition’s first prize of $392,000. The only prominent player missing is Fred Couples, ranked second behind Langer in the Champions Tour’s Charles Schwab Cup standings. Couples opted to play in this week’s PGA Tour event, the Wyndham Championship.
“Bernhard has done very well, but to me, there’s quite a large group of players out here who are capable,” said Tom Lehman, who won the Champions Tour’s other major, the Senior PGA Championship. “Bernhard has won three (actually, four) times, but has probably played 14 or 15 tournaments, so he’s not winning everything.”
The Tradition field includes defending champion Mike Reid, and three players who have been prominent in three previous Traditions at Crosswater in Tom Watson, Fred Funk and Loren Roberts. Funk won the 2008 tournament and finished eighth and 11th in the other two. Watson and Roberts finished among the top seven during the past three Traditions.
Crosswater Club is the longest course on the Champions Tour at 7,533 yards, but the past two winners, Reid and Funk, are nowhere near the longest hitters on tour.
“I didn’t think it played long last year,” Lehman said of Crosswater. “There’s a nice blend of holes you can really attack, and some holes where you’d better be careful.”
Earlier in August, Jeld-Wen announced it was ending an eight-year sponsorship of the Tradition. The tour is expected to announce its plans for the Tradition’s future following the tournament.