For Langer, chance made it possible to win with skill


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Had it not been that older brother Erwin Langer once took Bernhard, age 9, to a golf course to caddy in Augsburg, Germany, the world he was too young then to comprehend may never have provided such bountiful rewards of wealth and glory. Now Bernhard Langer, for the second time, has won the Masters championship.

A drive on the 11th hole struck a woman spectator on one bounce, but it was a glancing blow; she wasn't hurt and it was to Langer's benefit. Instead of entering the woods, the ball rolled 70 yards downhill, took a favorable turn, went under the gallery rope and stopped in the fairway.

He was able to save par, rather than contending with something more ominous, and continued on a methodical march to the winner's circle and a prize of $306,000.

It could be said, facetiously, of course, if a fan's fanny hadn't inadvertently gotten in the way of an off-line drive, the Masters might have had a different ending.

Taking a four-shot lead into the final round, Langer was pleased to say: "I fired at every flag. I didn't back off at all." And he battled a challenge from Chip Beck, who finished second after a dubious decision on the 15th hole.

Beck was 236 yards to the front of the green and 250 to the pin. The scoreboard told him he was three strokes behind. Still, Beck decided to play safe in the face of a 10-mph wind and that virtually preempted any rally.

The bantam-like Bernhard, who had already laid up with a 5-iron and walked ahead to stand in the shade, remarked to his caddy: "If he wants any chance to win, he has to go for it." Later, when it was all over, he added, "All I can say is if I was in his shoes, I would have gone for it."

But Beck was thinking other thoughts. "I didn't want to throw it away with one shot," he said. "It was marginal that I could get there. The wind was a little too strong."

Beck didn't gamble and Langer converted a birdie on the pond-fronted par-5, where Gene Sarazen made his celebrated double-eagle in 1935 that gave this now-celebrated event its most historic moment. It demonstrates again how circumstance plays a paramount role in all lives.

Two holes before, on No. 13, when Langer was fighting off Beck, he eagled and his foe birdied. This meant he was 3-up with five to play and, indeed, it became the vital turning point.

What transpired on 15, when Beck exercised discretion over valor, only gave Langer added comfort.

The 35-year-old thus becomes the only cross-handed putter to win the Masters. It's an outrageous grip, but it obviously works for him. This time, Langer won more impressively than in his earlier Masters achievement.

Stop to consider Langer had none of the opportunities that come to a so-called privileged youth. His parents were of German/Czech nationality, the father a bricklayer, the mother a waitress, and golf was foreign to his limited horizons.

In World War II, his dad, a German soldier, was captured by the Soviets and put on a prisoner-of-war train. He figured he had nothing to lose, so he jumped off in a daring move and made his way home in a precarious hide-and-seek journey that took six months.

Bernhard's first clubs were hickory shafts, and he is self-taught. The chance to caddy meant he could earn a fee of 85 cents a round. So, again, it's another living example of what a man can do if he has the persistence to reach for the stars -- and to touch them.

In Langer's professional pursuits, he can count double Masters wins (1985 and 1993) and two green coats, emblematic of his conquests.

When he won here before, the stoic German was the beneficiary of Curtis Strange's drowning two shots on water holes 13 and 15. Yesterday, the same two holes were pivotal again.

Strange made questionable club selections with a three-shot lead, opening the door for Langer. Strange went for it and lost. Beck, eight years later, did the opposite and, again, this worked to Bernhard's advantage.

While Strange suffered emotional pain, Langer had birds at the same locations to mark his initial Masters victory. He had rounds of 72-74-68-68282. Now, with more maturity and robust golf earnings of $4,061,249, he improved the margin by five with scores of 68-70-69-70277.

This all makes for pleasant recapitulation, considering the humble background of the slender, polite shot-maker from across the seas.

The drive that took a "Bernhard Bounce" on the 11th hole is the kind of a break that frequently comes the way of a champion. In golf it's referred to as "rub of the green," but in no way does it diminish or demean the triumph.

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