Golf: Power of thought inspires Langer

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The Independent Online
THE conditions that have prevailed at The Oxfordshire over the last three days have provided the sort of examination finalists at that famous seat of learning down the road would recognise. The gusting winds and squalls were no less severe yesterday, which makes it no surprise that Bernhard Langer takes a one-shot lead into the final round of the B&H International.

The tenacious German holds first class honours in coping with bad weather, as illustrated by his victory in this tournament at St Mellion in 1991. Following his win over Jose-Maria Olazabal in Italy last Sunday, his first in Europe for a year and a half, Langer continues to wield his long putter to good effect. While others slipped back - overnight leader Greg Turner had a 77, Ross McFarlane a 78 and Retief Goosen a 76 - Langer's 71 edged him ahead of Lee Westwood and Ian Woosnam, who both had 70s.

"All of a sudden, the wind must have picked up by 10 to 20 miles an hour," said Langer, who birdied three of his first 11 holes and then held on coming home. "At the 16th, I hit a great drive and could not reach the green with a three-wood. But it is harder on the greens because the ball is wobbling. But as long as balls aren't moving, then the conditions are playable."

"No one thinks their way around a golf course as well as Langer, that's why he's so good in bad conditions," Westwood said. The young tiger may be a match for the old pro when they play together for the first time today. Westwood is loving every minute of it. "I don't mind how hard it blows," he said. "You have got to have the right attitude. You know you have to be patient and stay calm." Westwood made an analogy with Augusta, where he was 24th last month. "You have to miss the greens in the right spots," he said.

Since then, his putting has been slightly off, but his father, John, a 13-handicap schoolteacher, gave him a lesson before the round and three par-putts on the final three holes helped maintain his position.

Woosnam, who hit a two-iron to six inches at the last, did not get the reward for his fine iron play until he switched to putting cack-handed on the back nine. His only dropped shot of the tournament had come at the ninth, where he three-putted. "I nailed a one-iron as well as I could and then three-putted," he said. "I don't know how the putter survived to the tenth tee. I was fuming."

Like a number of American-designed courses which are increasingly populating these shores, The Oxfordshire, with its huge carries over water, notably at the par-five 17th, should be played with a Floridian sun on one's back. Without it, inspiration can be hard to muster for those down the leaderboard. Seve Ballesteros twice found water for his two double-bogeys in his 76, a score which was matched by Colin Montgomerie.

"It is a shame for everyone concerned," Monty said of the weather, "and this was meant to be the good day. No fun, no enjoyment for the players or public. All credit to those who have turned out to watch."

Although crowd figures were down for the first two days, the attendance of around 10,000 was the same as for the third day last year. "These are the real golf supporters," Jim Elkins, the tournament director for Benson & Hedges, said. "Last week was lovely here and next week probably will be, too. It takes a year's planning to put on a tournament like this and we were confident we had got everything right."

Ironically, while the tournament has grown in stature since being played in late August at Fulford, it has suffered with inclement conditions since moving to May, first at St Mellion in Cornwall and then from last year on this exposed hilltop near Thame.

"We are hoping to start discussions with both the European Tour and the BBC to consider a later date," Elkins, who would dearly love a return to the summer, said.