When Bernhard Langer opened a three-stroke lead with two birdies on the first five holes of Sunday’s final round of the Constellation Senior Players Championship, many watching and even some playing at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills figured the remaining holes would be a coronation for the most dominant player on the PGA Tour Champions.
Few counted on anyone chasing down Langer.
Even fewer counted on Langer giving up his seemingly comfortable lead.
Yet both happened.
A 6-under-par 66 by Scott McCarron was enough to catch and eventually pass Langer, who opened the door with what seemed to be a rare bogey on the par-3 13th hole, made a disastrous double-bogey on the par-3 17th and then saw his chance to force a playoff disappear when his 6-foot birdie putt on par-4 18th circled nearly the whole cup but didn’t go in.
“I thought I hit a really good putt,” Langer said. “Hit a good chunk of the hole, too. But the big issue was 17, hitting a horrible shot there [into the water] and then missing a 6- or 7-footer for bogey. That was the killer.”
Brandt Jobe, who shot even-par 72 and finished tied with Langer for second, made a bogey on the par-3 17th and missed a 25-foot birdie try on 18 that would have helped get him into the playoff.
It gave McCarron, 52, who finished with a four-round total of 18-under par 270, his first major championship as a professional and prevented the 59-year-old Langer, who shot a 1-over par 73, from winning his fourth straight Senior Players Championship and 10th overall major on the PGA Tour Champions.
“I thought it was a very difficult task to catch him or pass him, but I thought if I go out there and have a good stretch on the front nine and maybe put a little pressure on these guys, that you never know what happens, it’s golf,” said McCarron, whose six-shot deficit to start the final round tied the largest ever by the winner of the Senior Players Championship. “To come from that far behind, especially with Bernhard Langer, is really something special.”
Said Langer, who also lost the opportunity to become the first player — male or female — in 90 years to win the same major four straight years. “I played the same way I played the last few days, pretty aggressive, smart, whatever. That’s what I call it. Don’t take ridiculous chances but take [chances]. You know, I lost it. It’s very simple.”
Jobe, who played every round with Langer at Caves Valley, said it was shocking to watch him give up the lead.
“If you would have told me that he was going to shoot 1 [over] and I was going to shoot even today, I would have said you're crazy,” said Jobe, who came into the final round one shot behind Langer. “I thought once we get 3 or 4 under, no one else has a chance, it’s just too low. Really that would have been the case. We didn’t do our jobs today.”
McCarron, playing in the twosome ahead of Langer and Jobe, thought the same way until he reached the 16th hole. McCarron recalled a conversation he had with his caddie, Evan Vollerthum of Fallston, who went on the champion’s bag when McCarron’s regular caddie left before Wednesday's pro-am because his father was close to death and eventually died in Texas.
“It was really weird, my caddie Evan and I were talking about it, it just seemed to happen so quickly,” McCarron said of his Sunday comeback . “We were back all day and I made a bunch of birdies, but Langer was still up there at 20 [under] and I was still like three back it seemed all the time. All of a sudden I looked on the board at 16 and saw we were only one back.”
McCarron, who had pulled to within one when Langer made his first bogey in 31 holes on the par-3 13th, missed a chance to take a share of the lead when he missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th hole. He then made pars on the last two holes and started hearing groans coming the fans following Langer and Jobe.
The first one came when Langer put his tee shot on the par-3 17th into the water right off the green. The next came when Jobe, who had put his tee shot into the bunker left of the green, chunked his recovery into the rough and then sculled his chip across the green. Then another was heard when Langer’s 6-footer for bogey lipped out.
And, finally, again when Jobe’s long uphill birdie try on 18 rolled by and Langer’s short downhill putt on 18 rolled three-quarters of the way around the cup and spun out.
McCarron was on the practice range hitting balls and getting ready for a potential playoff.
Asked when he realized that he had won the tournament, McCarron said, I heard the groan [after Langer’s putt at 18.] I always believe that the guys are going to birdie the last hole. I was preparing for a playoff and I thought it would maybe be a three-man playoff. Brandt was 20 or 30 feet below the hole, I heard him miss and I heard Langer’s, the groan there and that was when I knew I had won.”
McCarron, whose fourth PGA Tour Champions win brought him a first-place check for $420,000 and moved him to second on the money list behind Langer, called his first major championship “a really good feeling. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am on the PGA Tour Champions … and having the year I had last year and having the year I am now. It’s just a lot of hard work.”
Said Langer, who lost a 54-hole lead for the first time since the 2013 Senior British Open: “This is going to hurt a little while because it was within my grasp to win the championship. All I had to do was come home in even par more or less [on the back nine], 20 under would have done it. But it’s easier said than done.”