SNOQUALMIE — To his rivals Bernhard Langer is relentlessly methodical and maddeningly precise. Steady and unemotional, the German-born Langer makes one good golf shot after another with almost mechanized predictability.
“I call him ‘The Robot,’ ” said fellow PGA Tour Champions golfer Woody Austin.
On Sunday, Langer was true to his nickname with a brilliant back-nine charge at the Boeing Classic to join a three-man playoff, which he won with a birdie — his seventh in a 10-hole stretch — on the first extra hole. With the victory the 59-year-old Langer, who celebrated his birthday Saturday, becomes the oldest winner in tournament history.
Langer was already atop the tour’s season money list, and he padded his lead with the $300,000 first-place paycheck, raising his 2016 tour earnings to $2,084,659.
“It gets harder as you get older,” said Langer, wearing the traditional brown leather bomber jacket given to tournament champions. “These young guys hit it past me. … And it will get harder (in the coming years). I’m going to get shorter sooner or later.
“But it’s more than length,” He said. “You have to be precise and have the nerve, and then (you have to) play the course the way it needs to be played. So there’s still a little bit of life left in me.”
The win was Langer’s 29th on the PGA Tour Champions, tying him with Lee Trevino for the runner-up position behind Hale Irwin (45). It also raised his career earnings on the senior tour to $19,989,691, third overall behind Irwin ($27,037,535) and Gil Morgan ($20,602,159).
Langer started the day at 8 under par, four shots behind second-round leader Gene Sauers, and then played the front nine in 1-over. At that point, Langer said, “things weren’t going very well for me.”
But it was also about that time he made a swing correction that enabled him to run off birdies on the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th holes, and another on the 15th. He added a sixth birdie on the par-5 18th by chipping from a greenside bunker to 6 feet and rolling in the putt to finish at 5-under 67 and join a playoff with Austin and Kevin Sutherland, all knotted at 13-under 203.
The threesome returned to the 18th tee, where Sutherland was undone by a tee shot that landed in a fairway bunker. Austin was in a good position off the tee, but his second shot sailed into a bunker right of the green. Both players had to scramble to make pars.
Langer, meanwhile, made a safe tee shot and then drilled a fairway wood to just short of the green. He chipped 4 feet past the hole and rolled in the downhill putt, which he celebrated by flinging his visor and thrusting both fists skyward in triumph.
Despite the earlier deficit, “you never know,” Langer said. “This game is so crazy. I’ve seen just about (everything over the years). I’ve blown tournaments when I was leading and I’ve come from 7 behind (to win), so you just never know.”
Down the stretch, he added, “I hit it close and made some clutch putts.”
Langer’s victory was his second at the Boeing Classic, following a first-place finish in 2010. Also in 2010, he won the U.S. Senior Open at Redmond’s Sahalee Country Club.
“This is one of my favorite events,” Langer said. “You’re looking out over the mountains and the hills. It’s one of God’s great creations. It’s really special.”
Austin, who also closed with a 5-under 67, was lamenting his second shot of the playoff that ended in the bunker.
“With the flag in the front of the green, if you go for the green, you can’t miss the green,” he said ruefully. “If you hit it in the right bunker you’re dead, and if you hit it in the left bunker you’re dead. … But you’re trying to win the tournament. You’re not going to lay up. I tried to hit the ball on the green and I hit it in the spot you can’t hit it into.”
Sutherland closed with an 8-under 64 that was the low round of the day. Still, he said, “I’m obviously disappointed right now. I had a chance to win the tournament and it didn’t happen.
“But I played tremendous golf (in the final round). I hit a lot of really good iron shots. It seemed like when I got myself in the fairway and had an iron in my hand, I hit it close. And I putted well today, too.”
Sauers started well on Sunday with back-to-back birdies, but from there his round stalled. He had a bogey on No. 4 and then had four bogeys and three birdies on the back nine for an even-par 72 that left him in fourth place at 12-under 204.
Joe Durant, who started the day in second place at 10-under 134, had the misfortune of striking a female spectator in the head with his second shot on the par-4 third hole. The woman was injured, though reportedly not seriously.
“You hate it when you do it,” Durant said. “That’s by far the worst that’s happened. I’ve never actually clocked somebody in the head (before). I’ve hit arms and legs and stuff, but never like that.
“I was just a wreck for about four holes. You don’t know if she’s OK and you can’t find out. … At that stage, golf doesn’t matter. You’re just hoping she’s going to be OK.”
Crowd favorite John Daly closed with his best round of the tournament, putting together a bogey-free round of 3-under 69 for a 5-under 211, leaving him tied for 21st. Defending champion Billy Andrade closed with a 1-under 71, leaving him in a tie for 37th at 2-under 214.