Golf: Langer sees off Lane with wave of magic putter

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The Independent Online
Bernhard Langer, whose career has been blighted by recurring attacks of the "yips", a putting disease more damaging to a golfer than even molehills on a green, won the Smurfit European Open at the K Club yesterday with a couple of outrageous putts.

Back this man to win a tournament immediately following the Ryder Cup. Langer missed a short putt in the match against the United States at Kiawah Island four years ago, the putt that would have retained the Cup for Europe, and a few days later won the German Masters in a play-off.

After helping Europe to victory in Rochester last week, Langer won here in a play-off, beating Barry Lane at the second extra hole in an extraordinary climax. "I've been struggling with my putter the whole week," Langer said. This is not quite true. He had a brilliant back nine in the third round and yesterday came home in 33 to force a sudden-death finale.

Lane, who began the day one stroke ahead of the Frenchman Fabrice Tarnaud and three ahead of Langer, kept his nose in front, getting to eight under par for the championship with a birdie at the 15th where he rolled in a putt from about 20 feet. On overseeded greens, this was as good, or as lucky, a putt as you are going to get. Until Langer, two groups ahead of him, got to the 18th.

The hole is called The Hooker's Graveyard, for the very simple reason that there is water left of the green. It is a classic finishing hole, a classic par five of 518 yards. Langer, two strokes behind Lane, hit driver, five-wood and rolled in a putt from around 70 feet for an eagle three.

That elevated Langer to eight under and he proceeded to perform what looked like an Irish jig on the green. On display by the 18th was the Ryder Cup and the adrenalin of most of the Oak Hill heroes was clearly still flowing as strongly as the Liffey. Lane would have heard the roar from the crowd that greeted the German eagle and what the Englishman needed at the last was a birdie. Instead he missed the green to the right with his approach shot, left his chip about 20 feet short and his putt an inch wide of the hole.

Lane, who missed a tiny putt at the 18th on Saturday, had a par five for a round of 71 compared to Langer's 68, the lowest score of a difficult day. In the play-off they returned to the 18th and both got birdie fours although Langer's was not without drama. His approach shot, aimed at the flag which was situated precariously near the lake, came to rest a matter of inches from the water.

They resumed the duel at the 10th where Lane missed, only just, from holing out of a bunker. The stage was left to Langer and his putt for a three found the middle of the hole from 22 feet. He won pounds 108,330 to move to third in the Order of Merit and he still has a chance, with the German Masters coming up this week, of overtaking Colin Montgomerie and Sam Torrance on the autobahn. Monty, who finished joint third here, crept past Torrance. The Scotsman with the colourful sweaters is now pounds 980 in front of the Scot with the moustache and the broomstick putter.

Vivaldi would have been at home here yesterday afternoon as the four seasons visited County Kildare in one fell swoop: showers, sunshine, a blustery, cold wind and brilliant autumn colours. It is doubtful, however, if he would have enjoyed the 16th hole. It is a par four of 395 yards with water, water everywhere. Sandy Lyle got a quadruple bogey eight there after hitting it into the water twice and followed that with two birdies to come home in 41 in a round of 76. The Irishman Raymond Burns also came to grief at the 16th, going into the water four times and finishing with a 10.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 24