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Doug Farrar

Machine Head: Bernhard Langer wins the U.S. Senior Open

Devil Ball Golf

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SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- Through the most partisan crowd the U.S. Senior Open has ever seen, perhaps the most difficult course in the 31-year history of the tournament, and a field that was blowing up all around him, Bernhard Langer kept his game up and his scores down. He didn't have the machinelike demeanor many would imagine from his thousand-yard stare; Langer frequently smiled, showed emotion when good shots were plentiful, and greatly enjoyed having his son Stephan on the bag all week.

But from a golf perspective, "machinelike" would be a perfect description of his play. At a Sahalee Country Club so narrow, the inside joke among the players was that the course should be renamed "Sahallway", Langer played as close to perfect as could be expected. Not only was he fighting to overcome jet lag resulting from the trip from the Senior British Open in Scotland (a tournament he also won), he was dealing with a crowd that desperately wanted Sunday playing partner Fred Couples to win. None of it seemed to affect Langer, who registered precisely one bogey on the final two days of the tournament, and none on Sunday. Langer tied for 11th in fairways hit over the four days, tied for third in greens in regulation, tied for eighth in birdies, and ranked fifth in average driving distance.

It's not that Langer did anything spectacular - he just didn't seem to do anything wrong. And when he did, like when he hit the water at the second hole on Friday, he was still able to get up and down for par. And on Sunday, when he went hard left at the 11th tee, a lucky bounce off one of Sahalee's thousands of trees game him a mid-fairway look for his second shot.

Lucky breaks aside, Langer's putting was superb. He drained several long putts despite varying greens speeds due to weather, and brutal slopes that would seem to make reading breaks near-impossible. When it was all over, Langer became the first player to win two consecutive Champions Tour majors since Tom Watson in 2003. Not a bad couple of weeks.

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"Yeah, it still has to sink in," Langer said after the final round. "It's hard to believe I won two back to back Majors with an eight hour time change in between and two very challenging golf courses. I'm very pleased. Probably played some of my best golf these last two weeks from tee to green, as well as on the green. This week I really putted well, all week long. I just had good touch, even when I had downhill putts; I didn't leave them ten feet short or rip them ten feet by, and that's the key out here."

Even that tricky ball on 11 seemed less the result of good fortune and more the byproduct of intelligent design when Langer was done explaining it. "I've been hitting driver there all week long," he said, when asked if he should have played the hole in a more cautious fashion. "I actually hit three very good tee shots there the first three rounds, and I felt that if I can hook a driver down there, I might have a 5-iron into the green or something, like yesterday. So I didn't want to give that advantage away or that possibility. If I hit 3-wood I still have to hit maybe a 3-iron or hybrid or 3-wood into the green. With these tall trees, that's not the kind of shot you're looking for. So I was just trying to rip it down there. But I hooked it too much and hit the tree."

The one thing that might have upended him - knowing that the crowd (though encouraging when he made great shots) had a rooting interest elsewhere - didn't. "It's never much fun, but I've had it before," he said of the pro-Couples crowd. "When you play in the same group with Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or any of the big names, [or] when you play in the Ryder Cups -- I've played ten Ryder Cups, five on American soil -- you get a lot more of this, you know. So I knew what was coming, which doesn't make it any easier."

Langer isn't done yet by any means - he's heading out to Minneapolis to play the 3M Championship at the TPC Twin Cities. Going from the links in Scotland to Seattle's vertical tree-lined maze to the 3M would seem a daunting task for most, until you realize that not only is Langer riding a ridiculous hot streak, but he won the 3M last year with a eagle on the final hole.

Can he do it again? Right now, betting against Bernhard Langer seems a very foolish thing to do.

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