Golf: Langer unleashes an unprecedented assault

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The Independent Online
Bernhard Langer played Valderrama yesterday and it was no contest. Langer shattered the course record with a 62 and, at nine under par, he has the lead at the half-way stage of the Volvo Masters. Some familiar names, however, are breathing down his neck.

Langer, who has never won this championship, compiled a score that would have been respectable in a par-three contest. He had 11 threes, and this over a course that is considered to be Europe's flagship. 'I didn't think a score like that was possible here,' Langer said. 'It was a very special round of golf.'

The bane of Langer's life has been his putting and several attacks of the yips have reduced him to a grotesque style of clamping his right hand on to his left forearm. Yesterday Langer had just 22 putts, eight fewer than in the first round on Thursday when he shot a level-par 71. It helps, of course, when you are putting on greens that are considered to be among the best in the world.

Langer compared them, in terms of quality and speed, with those at Augusta National. This is more than mere coincidence, for the man who tends the greens for the US Masters in Georgia has been contributing to the maintenance of the greens at Valderrama for the Volvo Masters. 'It would be wonderful to play on greens like this every week,' Langer said. 'Conditions were fantastic.'

A few tips from the Swede Anders Forsbrand also helped. Langer met him on the practice putting green on Thursday evening. 'He helped me to realise that my shoulders and the face of my putter were pointing left,' Langer said. 'I've been missing everything and it couldn't have got much worse.'

The last time Langer had such an extraordinary round was at El Saler, another thoroughbred Spanish course. That was 10 years ago and he scored 62 in the last round to win the Spanish Open, overhauling Howard Clark.

Yesterday Clark, Langer's playing partner, witnessed at first hand another near-flawless display. Vijay Singh, who was on the 18th fairway as Langer holed from 25 feet for a birdie three at the last, waved a white towel in mock surrender. Sam Torrance, another spectator, simply bowed.

Langer, who came home in 30, beat the course record by three strokes. He leads by one from the defending champion, Colin Montgomerie, by two from Miguel Angel Jimenez, by three from Seve Ballesteros and by four from Ian Woosnam. It is a leaderboard dripping in class.

If Langer produced the round of the year, Jimenez came up with the shot of the year. The Spaniard had lost ground with a double-bogey six at the 13th and a bogey five at the 16th. The 17th, a par five of 508 yards with a lake in front of the green, is one of Valderrama's signature holes. The choice is to lay up with the second shot or go for broke. Jimenez, who had 210 yards to the flag after his drive, hit a three-iron. The ball bounced on to the heart of the green and rolled into the hole. At one stroke Jimenez, with an albatross two, had made up three shots. When he removed his ball from the cup he looked as if he was giving it the kiss of life. It was the three-iron that should have been the object of his affection.

Ballesteros, who has helped to redesign the 17th, flirted with disaster there before escaping with a birdie four. He could give Houdini lessons.

Ballesteros's approach shot hit the bank in front of the green and was buried in rough a foot or so from the water. With great difficulty he chipped on to the green, at which point his caddie was able to examine the ball. It was not Ballesteros's. The penalty for playing a wrong ball is normally two strokes but as Ballesteros was lying in a hazard there was no penalty. After a further search he found the correct ball and this time his chip finished a couple of feet from the flag. He sank the putt for his birdie.

Montgomerie, playing directly behind Ballesteros, was a bemused spectator.

Big Monty had an eagle three at the 11th but failed to pick up a stroke at the 17th. From tee to green Montgomerie was as impressive as Langer, but the difference is that the Scotsman had 29 putts. However, he played the 18th with a dash of Spanish panache. His drive landed on a path from where he drew the ball with a seven-iron to within six feet of the flag. He made the putt for his birdie and came home in 31 in a round of 65 that equalled the old course record. It is not his card, however, that will be on display in the club-house.

Scores, Sporting Digest, page 47 Young, gifted and black, page 44