AUGUSTA: Thirty-three years since Jack Nicklaus won the Masters at age 46, he remains the oldest claimant of the Green Jacket and perhaps only Phil Mickelson among this year’s competitors is a realistic chance to break the Golden Bear’s mark.
But 61-year-old Bernhard Langer thinks that sooner or later a grey-haired older player will win a major, perhaps even the Masters.
Nicklaus showed what is possible not just by winning here in 1986 but by going close 12 years later in what would have been a victory of historic proportions.
He was in contention until the final few holes before eventually finishing equal sixth, four shots back of winner Mark O’Meara.
But for all the talk of the value of experience at Augusta National, it has been an exception rather than the rule for players over 50 to contend for the Green Jacket.
Spaniard Miguel Jimenez finished fourth in 2014, three months after his 50th birthday, while the performance of Langer that same year was also impressive as he finished equal eighth at age 56.
Langer, never a particularly long hitter even in his prime, says the length of Augusta National eventually catches up with him over 72 holes.
He thinks a longer hitter is more likely to crack the code, someone who can still almost match distance with the young bucks from the tee.
“It’s a lot harder for me now than 20-30 years ago,” 1985 and 1993 champion Langer told Reuters.
“The course has gotten longer. The last few years I’m wearing out my three and four-iron and two-hybrid into these par-fours, whereas these young guys are hitting eight-irons.
“It’s just hard to compete when you have that disadvantage.”
Langer gets a sobering baptism these days right off the bat at the par-four first, which now stretches to 445-yards.
When the hole plays into a cool north-westerly headwind, his drive invariably longs on the upslope, leaving him so far from the green that he has a blind second shot.
“I can’t even see the flag (sometimes),” he said.
Not even meticulous course management and a consistent putting stroke can make up for the 50 yards or more head start that he is giving younger players off the tee.
Even if his chances of winning are gone, Langer reckons someone of the ilk of 1992 champion Fred Couples or 2000 winner Vijay Singh stands a better chance of winning in his 50s.
Though he is not yet 50, Mickelson at age 48 and already a winner on the PGA Tour at Pebble Beach this year is a definite threat.
This week’s field will include seven players aged 50 or older.
“Someone who is 20 yards longer than me, I think they still have a chance,” Langer said.