Season-long dominance on the PGA Tour Champions didn’t translate into a season-ending coronation for Bernhard Langer at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship over the weekend. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it is odd.
Money list as measuring stick in professional golf seems as antique as a shag bag, although it worked just fine for a long time.
Sure, there have been valid reasons for tours to shake things up, starting with the interests of sponsors who want more bang – or at least the perception of a bigger bang – for the big bucks that make golf’s merry-go-round spin. And there is nothing wrong with vaccinating the tail end of a season to try to ward off a drowsy conclusion. It’s a game, but it’s also a show.
On its face, such an inoculation – in the case of PGA Tour Champions, a points adjustment going into the finale that gives the top five players a path to season honors with a victory – makes things interesting but inevitably opens the door for what happened Sunday at Phoenix Country Club. The outcome had the scent of one of those rulings in recent years that might have been correct but didn’t quite seem just.
In the language of points and permutations, Kevin Sutherland, who started the tournament at No. 5 on the Schwab list, was “in control of his destiny.” The good player and good guy – a chorus member who has done his part ably and amiably for years but hadn’t won since 2002 – controlled it, too, shooting 15-under 198 to defeat Vijay Singh and Lee Janzen by one stroke, with John Daly, David Frost and David Toms two shots back.
For only the third time in Charles Schwab Cup Championship history, the player who won the event also claimed the Schwab Cup bonus, with Sutherland joining Tom Watson (2005) and Tom Lehman (2012). “I’m sure in a couple of days it will sink in a little bit, but right now it just seems like I’m not sure it really happened,” said Sutherland, the satisfaction of the drought-busting victory enhanced by the $1 million bonus annuity after overtaking Langer for the season prize.
It is possible to be very happy for Sutherland and a little sorry for Langer, who tied for 12th after winning the first two playoff events, his sixth and seventh wins of 2017.
Langer, who was bidding for his fourth straight Schwab Cup and fifth of his senior career, was on the board that approved the format. “I think it needs adjusting,” he said. “I do, personally, because you could have somebody win the whole thing that hasn’t won a tournament all year, and I’m not sure that’s ideal. . . . I’m not sure it’s perfect. It’s maybe like the [PGA Tour’s] FedEx Cup; they had to adjust it two or three times to make it interesting but also make it a little fair.”
In a sports world in which senior golf isn’t widely respected, Langer’s excellence is underappreciated much like Hale Irwin’s was. This is a shame, exacerbated by attacks on Langer’s legal but much scrutinized method of wielding a long putter (“Langer, McCarron pile up W’s and skeptics,” Nov. 10, http://bit.ly/2jmACI5).
At 60, Langer plays like someone half his age. Three of his victories this season were in senior majors, giving him a record 10 in his 50-and-older career among 36 victories. He trails Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions-leading 45 wins, a number that once seemed like an unreachable summit but may be within Langer’s grasp if he stays healthy and motivated. There isn’t any doubt about the second factor, not with Langer always trying to get better. “If I can continue to improve,” Langer said, “I’m going to have a good chance to win tournaments, to win majors and to be one of the top five or 10 guys out here.”
Until further notice, despite computer evidence to the contrary, he is the top guy.
Bill Fields has covered golf since the mid-1980s, with much of his career spent at Golf World magazine as a writer and editor. A native North Carolinian, he lives in Fairfield, Conn. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @BillFields1