Schupak: Let’s hear it for Rob Labritz, the feel-good story of the week, if not the year, in golf

Your goose bumps had goose bumps watching the video of Rob Labritz after he qualified for PGA Tour Champions.

Move over Mike Visacki. There’s a new feel-good story of the year contender.

Big Mike pulled on the heart strings when he Monday qualified for the Valspar Championship and cried enough tears to be standing in casual water. The video of his phone call to his dad went viral.

But that was so April and that was before PGA club professional Rob Labritz made his dream come true, earning exempt status on PGA Tour Champions for 2022.

Trailing by one entering the final round, Labritz, the director of golf at the GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York, carded the low score on Friday with a bogey-free 7-under 64 to grab medalist honors at TPC Tampa Bay. He posted a 72-hole score of 17-under 267 to finish three strokes ahead of runners-up Thongchai Jaidee and David Branshaw.

“I’ve been envisioning this happening. And it did, which is crazy,” Labritz said after achieving his dream of 15 years. “It shows the power of the mind. I’m beyond the moon. I’m almost speechless. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this, to know that my golf game held up.”

If your goose bumps didn’t have goose bumps after watching the video above, well, we can’t be friends.

There’s nothing better in sports than the long shot finally having his day in the sun. Labritz has been a club pro since age 19, wearing an assortment of hats in his day job that leaves little time to concentrate on his own game.

Somehow, he says, he kept his game sharp. Over the years, he’s qualified for the PGA Championship eight times, finishing as the low PGA professional at both the 2010 and 2019 PGA Championships. He is a three-time Met PGA Player of the Year, and his hole-out in the 2013 Professional National Championship was the No. 1 “Top Play” on SportsCenter. This summer, he warmed up for Q-School by winning the Massachusetts Open, Rhode Island Open, the Met Professional Championship and the Westchester Open (at his home club).

So, this was no fluke. Labritz turned 50 on May 31, but he’s been planning for his chance to qualify for the senior circuit for at least 15 years.

“This is what I’ve worked for my entire life,” he said. “Every time I’m out hitting golf balls, I’m thinking of this. I’m thinking of the shots I need to hit to make sure this happens. It’s super important, but it’s super fun, too. I’m doing what I love, and there’s nothing better.”

But PGA Tour Champions is virtually a closed shop. It is geared to provide a mulligan for the stars of yesteryear, so fans can have another bite at the apple of seeing Arnie, Jack and Lee win once again and more recently Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Ernie Els.

To protect the stars of yesterday, only five cards are available at final stage. The next 25? They earn the right to try to Monday qualify into events. Labritz had to a jump through a lot of hoops even to have a shot at his dream.

To do so, he had to beat a field of veteran pros and former Tour winners such as Harrison Frazar, Frank Lickliter and Ken Duke. In other words, guys whose day job was to groove their swing all day and only ate what they killed.

Every once in a while, a David comes along and beats the Goliaths: Walt Zembriski, a former steel worker, cattle farmer Robert Landers and beer truck driver Mark Johnson were some of the unheralded players to unlock the door. Labritz is following in the footsteps of club pros Jim Albus, Tom Wargo and driving-range pro Allen Doyle, who didn’t make their mark in the professional ranks until turning 50.

As Labritz sat in scoring after his final round, he pulled his hat low to try to hide the emotions, but it was too late. “I’m not a good-looking crier,” he cracked. He whipped out his black leather yardage book and flipped up a flap to reveal the embroidered words he’s tried to live by: Keep grinding….Always…But look around and enjoy the ride!

Those were words on a note (accompanying a bottle of Dom Perignon) from one of his members after he qualified for his first PGA Championship at Hazeltine.

“All the sacrifice, we did it,” Labritz told his wife via a phone call videoed by PGA Tour.com as the emotions and tears poured out.

“I’m going to enjoy this for a while,” he said.

As he should.

“To know that my golf game held up…” and his voice trailed off. He didn’t need to finish the thought.

That’s because it’s evident that Labritz loves being a club pro, but he loves competing, too. As he’d already put it, he’s ready for “the next chapter” and the chance to concentrate on his golf game for once and compete on a more level playing field.

To Labritz, there’s nothing better than doing what you love.

Actually, there is – it’s called doing what you love at the highest level. It’s why Rob Labritz can’t wait to tee it up on the Champions Tour in 2022.

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Rob Labritz among five golfers to earn 2022 tour cards at PGA Tour Champions Q-School

Rob Labritz, twice the low PGA professional at the PGA Championship, won medalist honors at PGA Tour Champions Qualifying Tournament Friday and is among five golfers who earned 2022 tour cards. Labritz, the director of golf at the GlenArbor Golf …

Rob Labritz, twice the low PGA professional at the PGA Championship, won medalist honors at PGA Tour Champions Qualifying Tournament Friday and is among five golfers who earned 2022 tour cards.

Labritz, the director of golf at the GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford Hills, New York, was low pro at the 2010 and 2019 PGA Championships. He won Q school by three shots. He finished 17 under after posting scores of 65-71-67-64 at TPC Tampa Bay. Labritz has played in the PGA Championship eight times but beyond that, he has appeared in just three PGA Tour events in his career.

David Branshaw and Thongchai Jaidee finished tied for second at 14 under. Jaidee’s third-round 63 was the best score of the week. Roger Rowland finished solo fourth at nine under, while Tom Gillis was solo fifth at eight under.

The week started with 79 golfers vying for fully exempt status into open, full-field events on the 2022 PGA Tour Champions schedule. The next 25 finishers Friday are now eligible to compete in open qualifiers in Champions in 2022. Notable names among that group include: Guy Boros (T-6), Skip Kendall (T-10), Mario Tiziani (T-1), Matt Gogel (T-14) and Paul Stankowski (T-14).

Tiziani is Steve Stricker’s brother-in-law and has caddied for Stricker on a few occasions.

Interesting names who came up short: Harrison Frazer (T-32), Omar Uresti (T-32), Olin Brown (T-44), Jonathan Kaye (T-47) and Frank Lickliter II (T-61).

Among those who withdrew during the final day included Carlos Franco, Jose Coceres and 70-year-old Dick Mast, who started on the PGA Tour Champions in 2001; he began his PGA Tour career in 1974.

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How substantial is Phil Mickelson’s influence in 2021? It transcends tours.

In the era of Tiger Woods, Mickelson never reached No. 1 .

PALM SPRINGS, California — The next time Phil Mickelson swings a golf club in competition should be at the 2022 American Express tournament in La Quinta, a tournament that he hosts and for which his foundation is the charitable arm.

When Mickelson does play in La Quinta in January in a tournament he has won twice, he will do so coming off of one of the most remarkable calendar years any golfer has played. He wasn’t the player of the year on either the PGA Tour or the PGA Tour Champions. He didn’t earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. But he crafted storylines on both the regular and the senior tour that were the most captivating stories of the year.

That’s what has made Mickelson’s career so remarkable. In the era of Tiger Woods, Mickelson never reached No. 1 in the world ranking. He has six major titles, but other players have more through history. But like Arnold Palmer before him, whatever Mickelson does seems to be done with a flair that almost compels fans to pay attention.

The year that Mickelson just produced should pay some local benefits as well. No one can say for sure how many PGA Tour events Mickelson will play in 2022, but one of them will be The American Express. That surely will bring a few extra eyes to the La Quinta event, if only to see what Mickelson might conjure that week.

More: Seven majors in 12 months? Phil Mickelson’s historic win the top highlight of a busy year

We know that Mickelson’s four magical days at Kiawah Island produced history with a victory last May in the PGA Championship. It was a major championship that hardly anyone could have imagined, perhaps not even the confident Mickelson himself. Not only did Mickelson win his sixth major title eight years after his previous major win, but the PGA victory came just one month before Mickelson’s 51st birthday. It was his only win of the year, in fact his only top-10 finish of the year. But it is the win most golf fans will point to as the year’s most memorable moment.

But as a 50-year-old, Mickelson could also play on the Champions Tour. He played only one senior event between Jan. 1 and Oct. 1, focusing instead on the regular tour through the end of the majors. But once he set his sights on the senior tour, Mickelson was as dominant as you would expect him to be among the 50-and-older set.

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Mickelson a force on the PGA Tour Champions

He played two events in October and one this month, winning twice including the Charles Schwab Champions Cup event in Phoenix Sunday. A back-nine of 4-under 31 was enough to vault Lefty past a strong group of players including Jim Furyk. No, Mickelson hadn’t played enough to challenge for the season-long Charles Schwab Cup, but he was the tour’s best player when he did play.

Each of the last two years Mickelson has started the season with a bit of a question in his mind as to how much golf he would play on the two tours. In 2020, that question was answered a bit by COVID-19, with the tour taking three months off at one point and rescheduling so many other events, including the major championships. In the calendar year 2021, with a more traditional schedule, as the pandemic eased, Mickelson played 18 times since Jan. 1 (he has played one additional event since the 2021-2022 wraparound season started on the regular tour) and four times on the senior tour.

The question of splitting time will certainly have to be answered again for Mickelson as 2022 rolls around. He’ll play The American Express, and he’ll play in the major championships. There will be some World Golf Championships in all likelihood as well as a few regular events he wants to play. But will he play as many as 18 tournaments on the PGA Tour as he did this year? Will he limit himself to four senior events, or will the senior majors start to have an appeal as he continues to have success on the 50-and-over circuit?

One thing is for sure. Mickelson will bring all of those compelling storylines to the desert in January, where he will try to start another improbable year.

Larry Bohannan is The Palm Springs (Calif.) Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan. 

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Bernhard Langer may be the best athlete — age adjusted — in the world

This past Sunday, the Boca Raton resident and native of Germany won his sixth Charles Schwab Cup.

There’s not getting any credit for being one of the best athletes in the world – and then there’s Bernhard Langer. Age adjusted, quite possibly the best athlete in the world.

Who?

Exactly.

Three weeks ago, Langer became the oldest winner in PGA Tour Champions history when he won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic. How old? As of that Sunday, he was 64 years, 1 month, and 27 days. And oh, by the way, it was his 42nd victory on that tour. His ninth win since passing the 60-year mark.

This past Sunday, the Boca Raton resident and native of Germany won his sixth Charles Schwab Cup.

Langer is now in the rarified air of … just himself.

Keep in mind, that tour has been in existence for over 40 years and nobody has ever accomplished the feats Langer is pulling off.

Charles Schwab Cup Championship 2021
Bernhard Langer celebrates after winning the season-long Charles Schwab Cup after the final round of the Charles Schwab Cub Championship at Phoenix Country Club. Photo by Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Didn’t this used to be called the ‘Senior Tour’?

“But,” some might be tempted to say. “He’s winning on the PGA Champions tour. Didn’t they used to call that the ‘Senior Tour’ – as in the guys over 50 years of age circuit – until recently.

Okay. Let’s go to the PGA Tour. Better yet. Let’s go back to the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National. As in a Major Langer won twice when he did play on that tour regularly.

At that Major full of 20-something phenoms, the then 63-year-old became the oldest player in golf history to make the cut at Augusta National. Something he also did at 62 and 61 years of age. Collectively in the process, he beat many players who were three or four decades younger than him and hitting drives at least 50 yards longer than him.

Those 20-something phenoms missed the cut and went home while the 63-year-old lived to excel another day.

Body and fitness-wise, if someone were to evaluate Langer, he looks – and is – in better shape than a great many players not only on the PGA Tour, but in other sports around the world as well.

Of course, he isn’t Superman. Langer flew to Germany Monday where he will have surgery on his knee and won’t be hitting balls for six to eight weeks. After rehab, his goal is to play in Hawaii for the start of the 2022 season, which will be his 15th on PGA Tour Champions.

CALGARY, AB – AUGUST 13: Bernhard Langer of Germany smiles as he walks to the green on the eighteenth hole during round one of the Shaw Charity Classic at Canyon Meadows Golf & Country Club on August 13, 2021 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Tom Brady can only hope to emulate Langer

Younger athletes have knee surgery all the time. To put it another way, 44-year-old Tom Brady hopes he can be in the shape Langer is now when he reaches 64 years of age and will seemingly be playing for his 15th Super Bowl ring.

Phil Mickelson, 51, played in the tournament won by Langer last month and got crushed by the 64-year-old. Said Phil a couple of days before Langer beat him by 14 shots: “Obviously, Bernhard Langer is the gold standard, right? That man at 64, what he’s been doing is incredible. That’s the guy to look up to to elongate your career, have a great quality of life.”

Of course, to Phil’s credit, he just won the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship as Langer was winning the points title.

To Mickelson’s greater point, Langer has proven to be the “Gold Standard” for every athlete in every sport to emulate if they hope to have a long and successful career. One of his fellow players on the tour just called him an “Anomaly.” He is that and should be recognized as such.

There is no one like him. Langer sits alone atop the pyramid for an athlete his age anywhere on the planet. Period.

He has won over 100 times world-wide and exactly like Brady, Langer is highly competitive, loves his sport and sees no reason to stop. He knows he can still dominate and win in his mid-60s and so do the guys 15 years younger than him.

The “anomaly” has more to prove and deserves much more recognition and praise from a sporting world often fixated on youth over experience.

Langer is the G.O.A.T for his age.

Douglas MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official and an author.

How much money each PGA Tour Champions player earned at the 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship

The 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship put a cap on the PGA Tour Champions “super” season.

PHOENIX — The 2021 Charles Schwab Cup Championship put a cap on the PGA Tour Champions “super” season.

Phil Mickelson won the season-finale by a shot over Steven Alker. It’s Lefty’s fourth win in six outings on the senior circuit, matching Jack Nicklaus. Mickelson earned $440,000 for the victory at Phoenix Country Club.

Bernhard Langer finished 17th but it was good enough for him to secure the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points title.

Darren Clarke and David Toms finished tied for third at 17 under. Brandt Jobe and Jim Furyk ended up in a tie for fifth.

This was the 20th Charles Schwab Cup Championship. Check out the final payout from the event.

Position Player Score Earnings
1 Phil Mickelson -19 $440,000
2 Steven Alker -18 $250,000
T3 Darren Clarke -17 $192,500
T3 David Toms -17 $192,500
T5 Brandt Jobe -16 $138,125
T5 Jim Furyk -16 $138,125
T7 Paul Goydos -15 $75,000
T7 Miguel Angel Jiménez -15 $75,000
T7 Steve Flesch -15 $75,000
T7 Brett Quigley -5 $227,813
T7 Stephen Ames -5 $227,813
T7 Kirk Triplett -5 $227,813
T13 Doug Barron -13 $53,750
T13 Vijay Singh -13 $53,750
T13 Fred Couples -13 $53,750
T13 Scott Parel -13 $53,750
17 Bernhard La -12 $47,500
T18 Ernie Els -11 $42,500
T18 Alex Cejka -11 $42,500
T20 Retief Goosen -10 $29,375
T20 Woody Austin -10 $29,375
T20 Wes Short, Jr. -10 $29,375
T20 Kenny Perry -10 $29,375
T24 Kevin Sutherland -9 $22,500
T24 Jerry Kelly -9 $22,500
T24 K.J. Choi -9 $22,500
T27 Paul Broadhurst -8 $18,958
T27 Rod Pampling -8 $18,958
T27 Glen Day -8 $18,958
30 Dicky Pride -7 $17,500
31 Colin Montgomerie -5 $16,875
T32 Tim Petrovic -2 $15,937
T32 Mike Weir -2 $15,937
34 Gene Sauers -1 $15,000

In addition to the tournament payouts, the top-five finishers in the season-long points race earn a chunk of money that will be paid out in an annuity.

  • Bernhard Langer, $1 million
  • Jim Furyk, $500,000
  • Miguel Angel Jiménez, $300,000
  • Ernie Els, $200,000
  • Jerry Kelly, $100,000

The annuity is set to pay out over 10 years.

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Phil Mickelson wins Charles Schwab Cup Championship; Bernhard Langer wins season-long points title for sixth time

Phil Mickelson made his return to Arizona a memorable one while Bernhard Langer made history.

PHOENIX — Phil Mickelson made his return to tournament golf in Arizona a memorable one. Bernhard Langer added another chapter to the history books. Jim Furyk kept things interesting right till the end. It all made for an eventful finish to the PGA Tour Champions season.

Playing in his sixth Champions event, Mickelson won for the fourth time after shooting a final-round 65 at Phoenix Country Club to claim the Charles Schwab Cup Championship for the first time.

Mickelson went bogey-free Sunday with birdies on Nos. 1, 7, 11, 15 and 16 before making a clutch par putt on No. 17. Mickelson closed his round with a birdie on the par-5 finishing hole to get to 19 under, completing his rally from a three-shot deficit to win the tournament. He won by a shot over Steven Alker, who birdied the 18th to finish 18 under. It’s Alker’s 10th top-10 finish in 11 tries since he turned 50 and joined the senior tour.

Meanwhile, by virtue of his final-round 69 and solo 17th-place finish, Langer clinched the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points race for a record sixth time. Langer came into the week leading the points, fell behind to Jim Furyk after the second and third rounds but reclaimed the top spot Sunday. Langer competed in all 39 events during the Champions tour’s “super” season, which combined the 2020 and 2021 campaigns.

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Furyk shot 65-67-65 in the first three rounds and was looking to cap the week with a couple of firsts. He would’ve been the first Champions tour rookie to win the Schwab Cup points title. He also was attempting to become the first golfer to win the season-long title on the senior circuit after winning the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup, which he did in 2010.

On 18, Furyk stood on the tee box needing an eagle on the par-5 closing hole to get to 18 under and finish solo second. That would’ve been enough to surpass Langer to claim the points race but after driving it in the fairway, Furyk pulled his second into the grandstands down the left side of the fairway.

With Mickelson signing autographs for fans and Langer watching the Golf Channel coverage in the clubhouse, Furyk needed to hole his third shot for eagle to win it but he blasted it well past the hole and watched it nestle in the thick rough off the green. He got up and down for par for a 71 to finish in a tie for fifth with Brandt Jobe.

Darren Clarke made a run up the leaderboard Sunday, closing his round with a birdie on 18 for a 64 to briefly take the clubhouse lead at 17 under. A year ago, after winning the TimberTech Championship, he faced visa issues which kept him from traveling to Phoenix to the Schwab Cup. Clarke finished tied for third with David Toms, who closed with a 65.

Paul Goydos had the round of the day, making a birdie on the last to shoot a 8-under 63 to finish 15 under for the week. The 63 also matches the low round of the week, also shot by Langer on Saturday.

Mickelson will deposit $440,000 into his bank account for the win. Langer claims a $1 million prize to be paid out in an annuity for winning the points.

The 2022 PGA Tour Champions season tees off with the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, Jan. 20-22. The 2022 Charles Schwab Cup Championship will once again be in Phoenix, Nov. 10-13, at Phoenix Country Club.

The combo season also marked the 20th anniversary of the Schwab Cup.

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Phil Mickelson dazzles; Jim Furyk closes in on Charles Schwab Cup Championship

Jim Furyk started the day three shots back but will take a two-shot lead into the final round.

PHOENIX — It was the marquee pairing of the day, as local favorites Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson teed it up in the second-to-last group in the second-to-last round at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Several hundred fans surrounded the first tee box at the start of their round Saturday at the Phoenix Country Club, a fitting venue for the former Wildcat (Furyk) and former Sun Devil (Mickelson) to do battle.

Furyk, 51, teed off first and went on to eagle the par-5 opening hole. He is one of four golfers still alive in the Schwab Cup race. Mickelson, 51, is not eligible but is seeking his fourth win in six starts on the PGA Tour Champions.

Their on-course battles go back to their college days and continued on the PGA Tour and now the Champions circuit.

“Phil attracts a crowd for sure,” Furyk said. “We’re in Sun Devil country so I heard a lot of ASU out there but Arizona is pretty big and Phoenix is a massive city, so a third of the folks here went to UofA. I’ve seen some support out there as well. It was fun. It’s great to be back in Arizona, it’s great to have that Arizona-Arizona State rivalry. And I’ve known Phil since we were in high school. Good to be out with someone who I played a ton of golf with throughout my career.”

Mickelson produced perhaps the shot of the day on the par-4 12th hole. After bombing his drive well left of the green, his ball settled in the rough in a spot nearly behind the 16th tee box.

Mickelson then pulled off one of his patented flop shots, landing the ball perfectly on the green, where it nestled about two feet away. He would then make the birdie putt to get to 12 under.

Furyk started the day three shots back of Kirk Triplett of Scottsdale. A birdie on nine gave Furyk the outright lead at 14 under. Triplett, who opened the week 65-64, later followed with a birdie of his own on the ninth to get to 14 under. He is seeking his first win in more than two years.

On 15, Furyk almost made an ace on the par-3 hole, although he wasn’t quite sure just how close it was.

“You can’t tell from the tee box,” Furyk said. “I had one that was really close on Thursday, same hole, that Billy Ray [Brown of Golf Channel] said took a peek.”

Furyk closed with three straight pars for a 65 and leads by one after 54 holes at 16 under.

“Scores are low but you want to be patient. You don’t want to force it in there and make stupid bogeys,” he said. “I got myself in a good position.”

Triplett is solo second at 15 under after a 69 and is looking forward to Sunday’s final round in Furyk’s group.

“I haven’t played with Jim in a long time, I am looking forward to it,” Triplett said. “That’s the nice thing about this Champions tour, you get to play with some guys you haven’t played with in a while.”

Stephen Ames shot a 65 to get to 14 under. He is tied for third with Steven Alker, who’s had a meteoric rise on the Champions circuit since turning 50 in July. From New Zealand, Alker moved to Arizona nearly two decades ago, and won last week on the Champions tour, his first win anywhere since 2014. He has posted a top-10 in nine of his last 10 events.

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Mickelson is solo fifth at 13 under after a third-round 68. He closed his round with a birdie on the par-5 18th. He has birdied the hole all three days so far.

The round of the day was recorded by Bernhard Langer, 64, who shot a 63 thanks to a bogey-free day that included four birdies and two eagles, on No. 1 and No. 18. It’s the second time in three months he shot his age or better.

Langer is doing this despite a balky back, which he says started acting up during Wednesday’s pro-am. On Thursday, he admitted he had thoughts of withdrawing, but after talking with his doctor, who said he can’t make things worse, decided to stick it out in his quest for a record sixth Schwab Cup title.

“On this occasion, my doctor assured me I couldn’t do any more damage to it, so that reassured my mind to fight through it, especially Thursday was pretty tough.”

Langer, now tied for ninth at 10 under, came into the week with the lead in the points race but will start Sunday in second.

However, if either Langer or Furyk win the tournament Sunday, they will also claim the Schwab Cup.

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Bernhard Langer, 64, beats his age by a shot at Charles Schwab Cup Championship

It’s the second time this season the ageless wonder shot his age or better on PGA Tour Champions.

PHOENIX — Bernhard Langer turned 64 in late August and celebrated the occasion by shooting his age on his birthday at the Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

Fast forward 10 weeks and Langer did himself one better, eagling the first and last holes at Phoenix Country Club to shoot a 63 in the third round at the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.

Langer is doing this despite a balky back, which he says started acting up during Wednesday’s pro-am.

On Thursday, he admitted he had thoughts of withdrawing, but after talking with his doctor, who said he can’t make things worse, decided to stick it out in his quest for a record sixth Schwab Cup title.

It’s not the first time he’s battled through an injury.

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“I’ve played in some severe pain when I was younger and that was probably a mistake looking back, but at the time, you know, you fly all the way to Australia and you don’t want to withdraw because you have back pain or something,” he said after Saturday’s round. “I played a number of rounds of golf with a lot of pain, and I can stand pain fairly well, but I’m not sure it’s the smartest thing to do.

“But on this occasion my doctor assured me I couldn’t do any more damage to it, so that reassured my mind to fight through it, especially Thursday was pretty tough.”

Langer was bogey-free on Saturday, with birdies on Nos. 3, 7, 10 and 17 to go along with his two eagles. He’s gone 68-72-63 so far this week and walked off the course tied for 10th, with 18 holes to go.

“I haven’t looked forward to an offseason like this for a long time just because of a few things,” he said. “I’ve been aching and hurting and I played a lot. I played probably more this year than I have in a number of years because my goal was to win the Schwab Cup and the more you play, the more chances you have. So I gave myself the opportunity and now we’ll see what happens.”

Langer’s victory in August ended a winless streak that went back to March 2020. He’s seeking his 43rd overall title since the Champions tour. Only Hale Irwin at 45 has more wins on the senior circuit.

Langer became the oldest winner on the Champions Tour three weeks ago when he won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Virginia. He has nine wins in all since he turned 60, which leads the tour.

Langer is already the tour’s leading money winner.

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Kirk Triplett makes his move at Charles Schwab Cup Championship

Lefty was back on familiar turf at Phoenix Country Club, shooting a 65 in the first round on Thursday.

PHOENIX — Kirk Triplett, who admits he’s had limited success in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, is looking to change his fortunes this week at Phoenix Country Club.

The longtime Scottsdale resident backed up his opening round 66 with a 64 on Friday to get to 13 under. He will take a two-shot lead into the weekend as he seeks his first win in more than two years.

“We’re only halfway done,” Triplett stressed after his round. “It’s probably my number one thought. There’s a lot of golf to play. A lot of birdies left to be made.”

Triplett has been playing with an edge for a while.

“I’ve had the juices flowing for the last six weeks, just trying to get to this tournament,” he said. Triplett was 32nd in the points with only the top 36 making this final field. “So I’ve been the guy on the bubble for at least a month. I’ve been playing like I’m winning every single week, like every shot matters so I think that has a lot to do with my good play these last two days.”

Triplett, 59, opened his Friday round with birdies on four of his first six holes and took a two-shot lead over Jim Furyk after making a birdie on No. 12. Another birdie on 14 pushed him three shots out in front.  He is seeking his first Champions tour win since he won twice in 2019. His last top-20 was two months ago. His last top-10 was in July. His best finish this season is a tie for second in May.

But he’s come to play this week. So far, he’s 32 of 36 in greens in regulation, tied for second.

“We know where we gotta finish, and nobody’s at that score yet.”

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His second round was an eventful one because of his playing partner, Phil Mickelson.

“My wife and I were talking this morning just trying to remember the last time I played with Phil. It was probably at least 15 years ago.

“He was great to play with, but he’s always been like that. He’s great to his fellow pros. Very talkative, very chatty, grinding away on every shot.”

The final pairing also had a large gallery following it around the course.

“I said that to him on 6 or 7. I said ‘Thank you’ and he said ‘What?’ and I said for bringing these people out,” Triplett said. “We get nice crowds here at Phoenix every year but we got more people than we usually do and he’s the reason.”

Mickelson was among the co-leaders are 6 under after 18 holes and was up past midnight tweeting about bombs.

On Friday, Lefty was indeed bombing his drives. On the two holes used this week used to measure distance, Mickelson averaged 310 yards, a healthy 38 yards farther Triplett. Mickelson is averaging 313.8 for the week.

He had three birdies on the front and closed with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to get to 10 under, three shots back.

Steven Alker, who beat Jim Furyk by a shot a week ago to win his first Champions event, continues an amazing stretch of hot play. He shot a second-round 65 to get within two shots of the lead. He’s posted eight top-10s in his last nine starts on the circuit after turning 50 in late July.

After going 2,907 days between professional victories, Alker is within striking distance of only having to wait seven more days for his next.

Points leader Bernhard Langer dealt with a balky back for a third straight day but he managed a 1-over 72, dropping him into 31st place.

Prior to his second round, Langer struggled bending over to pick up his ball on the practice green. He then needed a provisional tee shot on the first hole after sending his first shot out of bounds. He later doubled Nos. 14 and 15 before gutting out birdies on 17 and 18.

“Had two out-of-bounds balls and a water ball. I can’t ever remember having two OBs and a water ball in one round as long as my memory goes back, so that’s disappointing,” Langer said. “Made a bunch of birdies and overall I’m still here, so that’s the main thing.”

Thanks to his sizable lead in points, he’ll be in good position for a record sixth Schwab Cup title even with a low finish this week.

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Bad back not keeping Bernhard Langer out of Charles Schwab Cup Championship

Back pain that started Wednesday has only gotten worse for the Schwab Cup points leader.

PHOENIX — Bernhard Langer struggled to finish his first round on Thursday at the Phoenix Country Club. On Friday, he needed to hit a second tee shot at the start of his second round. Blame it on a bad back.

He says it started acting up during Wednesday’s pro-am, and while he said he thought it felt better before the first round, it actually got worse after taking some practice putts.

“I was in a lot of pain. I was this close from pulling out on the second hole,” he said after Thursday’s round. “It was the most pain I’ve had playing golf in 30 years. It was pretty bad.”

Langer managed a 3-under 68 but was in obvious discomfort down the stretch. He said he told his caddie that he “probably shouldn’t even be here right now, but somehow I started praying out there that the pain would subside and I managed to make it through, but it’s not good. Not sure I can do this for four days. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

On Friday, it didn’t seem any better, as Langer was seen on the practice green struggling to pick his ball out of the hole. He also appeared in discomfort on the tee box bending over to pick up his tee.

His playing partner Friday, Ernie Els, also hit a provisional on the first tee, but for Langer, he is giving it a go as he chases a record sixth Schwab Cup title.

Langer became the oldest winner on the PGA Tour Champions three weeks ago when he won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic in Virginia at age 64. He has nine wins in all since he turned 60, which leads the tour. He came into the week atop the standings. Langer leads the tour all-time in money and is second all-time in wins with 42, three behind Hale Irwin’s 45.

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