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Germany's Berhand Langer has fond memories of his trips to Oak Hill Country Club, site of the 69th Senior PGA Championship.(Photo: Getty Images)

Notebook: Ryder Cup memories, Shark speaks and more

By T.J. Auclair and Lauren Deason,

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Despite the dreary clouds and cool temperatures, it's been a sweet return to Oak Hill Country Club for Germany's Bernhard Langer.

Langer is at Oak Hill this week competing in his first Senior PGA Championship. In 1995, he was here as a member of the victorious European Ryder Cup team.

"I remember following [Nick] Faldo playing Curtis Strange coming down the last few holes because the whole thing kind of hung on that match," recalled Langer, a two-time Masters champion. "And it seemed like that anyway. And what was the Irish guy, Phillip Walton, he won a huge point for us coming down the last few holes. Because it was such a tight game, such a tight match.

"And I remember Seve [Ballesteros], it was one of those weeks where he was all over the place but he was still even par or whatever on his own ball, only hitting like one fairway out of 12 or something like that," added Langer, who captained the victorious 2004 European team at Oakland Hills. "So the way he scrambled around was incredible. And then the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony celebrations we had after we won and popping the champagne and taking pictures and having fun. That kind of stuff."

Langer is undoubtedly a pre-tournament favorite, especially coming off his tremendous performance at The Players Championship just two weeks ago, where he hovered around the lead before finishing tied for 15th.

Furthermore, Langer has eight top-15 finishes in 10 starts on the Champions Tour this season, highlighted by wins at both the Toshiba Classic and Ginn Championship Hammock Beach Resort.

However, Langer said that while people are quick to hand him the "favorite" tag, he's not exactly buying it.

"I think we have a lot of very talented players, very tough competitors, and there's a bunch of guys who can still play to a very, very high level and can win on any given week," Langer said. "So, yes, I consider myself one of the favorites, one of the favorites, because I think that there are at least 30 to 50 who can win this championship."

MORE MEMORIES: Welshman Ian Woosnam, another European Ryder Cup team stalwart, is also making his Senior PGA Championship debut this week.

Woosnam hasn't enjoyed a whole lot of success since joining the Champions Tour in March -- his best finish thus far was a tie for third at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf for his only top-25 finish.

On Wednesday, Woosnam was peppered with Ryder Cup questions. Like Langer, he, too, was a member of the winning side at Oak Hill in 1995. Woosie was also the captain for Europe's latest triumph at the K Club in 2006.

With this being a Ryder Cup year and the two teams descending on Louisville's Valhalla Golf Club in September, Woosnam was asked what it's like for Europeans to be recognized as the favorites for a change.

"It's strange," Woosnam admitted. "On paper Americans should be stronger. But the Europeans, I think what happens is we play, when we tend to play a friendly or we play along we tend to play match play all the time. But what I notice with the guys over here, they tend to, you tend to play stroke play all the time.

"If you go out in a four ball it's always you keeping a score. And how many shots it is. But we don't, if we have a 10 it doesn't matter. And I think we play that game more, we're more aggressive playing match play all the time."

HOME, SWEET HOME: Regardless of the outcome, this will be a special and memorable week for Jeff Sluman.

Sluman is a Rochester native and estimates he's got a solid 500 rounds under his belt at Oak Hill.

"I know where to go and what to stay away from," Sluman said. "Now it's a matter of, can you do it? There's some nuances that I haven't played very much lately on the golf course, that I'm going to go out later and just kind of work around the greens more than anything."

If anyone should know what makes Oak Hill so difficult, it's Sluman.

"It's just kind of one of those courses that you think you can get, but you never do," he said.

"I think that it doesn't lull you to sleep, but it just constantly puts pressure on every aspect of your game," Sluman said. "If you look at an individual hole you say, well that's not that hard a hole. But it's just the cumulative affect of continuing to have to drive it very well and place the ball in the greens... I think it just kind of wears on you. At the end of the day you say, wow, this is a cumulative 18 holes and this is an unbelievably difficult golf course."

WHO'S YOUR CADDIE: Greg Norman's longtime caddie Tony Navarro is back on his bag this week.

Norman's son -- an increasingly talented golfer himself -- has caddied for him in the past several years to gain exposure to the top players in the world. But, for the tough week ahead at Oak Hill Country Club for the Senior PGA Championship, Norman is glad to have his old friend Navarro -- who will be a groomsman in Norman's upcoming wedding -- back.

"We're the ones pulling the trigger and hitting the shots but, when you have somebody like Tony, who is so entrenched in everything I did -- not only on the golf course but off the golf course," Norman said, "it makes you realize how much a team really exists when you're at the top of the game."

The duo was supposed to renew their partnership at the Asian Open in late April, but Navarro's current prot�g� Adam Scott phoned in a last-minute commitment to the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas, Texas, that week and needed his caddie back.

Navarro, who looped for Norman when the Australian was No. 1 in the game, returned to Scott and the pair subsequently won in Dallas. As for Norman, he did just fine at the Asian Open with a tie for 14th.

Norman and Navarro went out to dinner Tuesday night and the old friends enjoyed the chance to catch up. In addition, Navarro's current Tour knowledge helps Norman, the International Captain for the 2009 Presidents Cup, keep up.

"You just get filled in with what's happening on the PGA Tour and what's happening with players and all of a sudden you feel reconnected in a lot of ways," Norman said.

COURT VS. COURSE: The tennis greats of the early 1980s were John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Greg Norman.

OK, maybe just the first two. But, as Norman reflects on his golf career, he wonders what would have happened if he'd chosen tennis instead of golf.

"I never played tennis up until about a year ago in my whole life," Norman said. "I actually wish I had taken up tennis instead of golf."

His fianc�e Chris Evert (formerly the top-ranked women's tennis player in the world) says his athletic abilities -- including exceptional hand-eye coordination and quick movements -- were "wasted on golf."

The "Great White Shark" -- Norman got that nickname at the Masters Tournament in 1981 after the Aussie discussed his love for swimming with sharks -- won 20 times on the PGA Tour. Now, however, he prefers hitting 1,000 tennis balls instead of 1,000 golf balls.

Norman thinks his emotional and aggressive temperament would have been better suited for the court instead of the course. Plus, with 14 clubs and different courses every week, golf is less constant than the four surfaces that tennis players face with just one racket.

All that being said, however, World Golf Hall of Fame member Norman doesn't regret his decision to play golf.

"No, not at all," he said. "I only say what I know now."

HOW HARD IS IT?: Jay Haas, winner of the 2006 Senior PGA Championship at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., is one of several players saying this Oak Hill set-up is likely the most difficult the Champions Tour players have faced in a long time, if ever.

Many players were saying the same at Oak Tree, so what makes Oak Hill so much harder?

"Totally different set-up, I guess, and weather," Haas said. "There it was more wind, I guess that was going to make it play difficult and they had a good bit of rough there. A lot of trouble in different places there. Bunkers. Two totally different golf courses. But, I think if the wind doesn't blow at the two golf courses, I think this one's harder, just because I think the greens are more difficult, they're a little quicker, probably firmer than they were at Oak Tree. And a good bit more rough here, it seems like. But it's hard to compare.

"We got a weather report here, 54 is a high tomorrow," he continued. "I don't know what the scores will be like, but we played -- I don't know if the wind's going to be blowing. I played nine holes early this morning and it was pretty raw out there. So maybe they will move some tees up and make the course play somewhat easier, but right now it's all we want for sure. But it's kind of two different courses, I would say this is a harder golf course though."

LIKING HIS CHANCES: It's safe to say that Loren Roberts is the type of player that turns a lot of heads in Champions Tour events. He is seemingly always in contention.

That trend should continue this week at the Senior PGA Championship if for no other reason than the venue. Roberts tied for seventh in the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill and won three of his four matches in the 1995 Ryder Cup.

"I really feel like I could be a factor here," he said. "Huge key to this golf course is, and it could be a little tougher, to keep the ball under the hole here. Because you've really got to try to keep the ball under the hole here. There's some pretty quick putts and a lot of putts with a lot of swing to them if you get in the wrong parts of the greens.

"There is room to drive it, I mean the fairways aren't super narrow, but I believe that in the rough, now, it's just as bad as it was for the PGA in 2003 for the young guys. So I think you probably are looking at the sternest test that the senior players have had in a major in a long, long time."

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