Golf: Langer cuts a satisfying groove

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BERNHARD LANGER, who has been inactive long enough to cultivate a shadow of a beard, was proof positive here yesterday that absence makes the art grow fonder. At the age of 34 the German golfer is taking dispute with Gary Player's famous remark that the more you practise the luckier you get.

Langer the family man is taking precedence over Langer the relentless pursuer of money and titles, although he is still in the market for the major prizes. The Bell's Scottish Open here is only his seventh tournament in Europe this season out of 23. 'I'm slowing down a bit. I don't have to grind like I did 10 years ago,' he said. 'I'm not as fit and as strong as I used to be but my swing is more grooved.'

Langer was in the groove in the first round yesterday, equalling the record over the King's course with a 62, eight under par. 'I could have broken 60 with a bit of luck,' he said.

Langer has won enough money in his extraordinary career to be able to put his feet up and rest his weary back. He has won 25 tournaments in Europe (you knew he was exceptional when he won the under-25 championship in 1979 by the little matter of 17 strokes) amassing more than pounds 2m in prize money. Yet he has only one major title, the Masters in 1985, to his name. He has, he says, three priorities: good health, enjoyment and success. Sounds like Eldorado.

Langer had nine birdies, a solitary bogey infringing at the 11th where he missed the green and found a bunker instead. He came out to five feet and his putt for par horseshoed around the hole. However, on three occasions he got down from off the green. He drove extremely well, yet on the range he had been hitting it all over the shop which suggests that retribution may be swift.

Colin Montgomerie, Scotland's flavour of the month, and Craig Parry, the defending champion, were Langer's playing partners. 'It was a pleasure to watch him,' Montgomerie said of Langer.

The big Scotsman dressed for the role of local hero with a blue shirt and blue tartan trews. Montgomerie shot 65, coming home in 31 after gaining his first birdie at the ninth and that was the result of luck rather than judgement. 'I mis-hit the putt to the left,' he said, 'and it went in. I must have misread it. That got me relaxed. I was a bit tense at the start. I was trying too hard.'

With no confidence in his driver, Montgomerie carried a two-wood in his bag, a rarity which he will use in the Open Championship at Muirfield next week.

It is not only the par fives on this course that offer obvious birdie chances. The par-four 14th, at 310 yards, is a doddle. Most players can drive the green and Sandy Lyle hit it with a one-iron.

There are not many par fours which throw up the mouthwatering prospect of a hole in one. The 18th is another below par hole. Lyle hit a three-wood off the tee and then a nine-iron to within 10 feet of the flag from 170 yards. He missed the putt for an eagle but the birdie, his sixth of the round, gave him a 66.

Lyle's wife Jolande, who took a few weeks off from caddieing when she had a minor operation, may carry her husband's bag at Muirfield. 'I don't mind at all,' Lyle said. 'We're comfortable together. On the course she's just a caddie. I don't treat her as my wife. The penalty would be too severe if we started arguing.'

Nick Faldo is seven strokes behind Langer and he immediately adjourned to the practice putting ground. He missed five putts from inside eight feet. He had, he said, always had problems reading the greens at Gleneagles. By the time Faldo finished, the wind had grown in intensity, strong enough for him to hit a nine-iron approach 210 yards to the 18th - and he overran the green. It is no way to treat a par five.

BELL'S SCOTTISH OPEN (King's course, Gleneagles) First-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 62 B Langer (Ger). 64 M Lanner (Swe). 65 M Brooks (US), C Montgomerie, P Baker, P O'Malley (Aus), J Spence, D Cooper. 66 S Lyle, G Orr, P Walton, S Richardson, D Waldorf (US), P Senior (Aus), I Woosnam, M Martin (Sp). 67 D Gilford, C Parry (Aus), A Hunter, A Murray, T Charnley, L Rinker (US), E Romero (Arg), L Mize (US), G Evans, M McLean, J M Canizares (Sp), E Darcy. 68 D Mijovic (Can), P Way, P Smith, J McHenry, M Pinero (Sp), R Allenby (Aus), D J Russell, M Sunesson (Swe), R Rafferty, A Sorensen (Den), S Field, J Rivero (Sp), J Hobday, M Poxon, R McFarlane, P Broadhurst, M McNulty (Zim), G Levenson (SA), E O'Connell, P Curry, J Haeggman (Swe). 69 K Waters, L Janzen (US), R Chapman, M Miller, V Singh (Fiji), R Kawagishi (Jap), M Roe, F Nobilo (NZ), J Quiros (Sp), V Fernandez (Arg), H Makino (Jap), C Mason, P Fowler (Aus), T Weiskopf (US), B Malley (US), B Marchbank, R Mediate (US), J Rystrom (Swe), C Maltman, D R Jones, K Trimble (Aus), W Westner (SA), N Faldo, H Clark, M Harwood (Aus), B Faxon (US); G Brand Jnr, Y Kuramoto (Jap). 70 A Oldcorn, S Hamill, R Davis (Aus), R Winchester, R Karlsson (Swe), D Durnian, D Williams, B Barnes, M Gates, R Lee, C Rocca (It), S McAllister, J Hawkes (SA), S Ballesteros (Sp), S Torrance, D Feherty, *D Robertson, J Townsend (US). 71 M Clayton (Aus), P Mitchell, D Clarke, S Luna (Sp), M Mackenzie, A Binaghi (It), J Sewell, D Smyth, P Lawrie, B Ogle (Aus), B Crenshaw (US), W Riley (Aus), C O'Connor Jnr, J Robinson, J Van de Velde (Fr), I Aoki (Jap), R Drummond, P Price, S Bennett. * denotes amateur