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Timing, in golf and history, is everything. You have to have a feel for it, and last week Bernhard Langer, a cross-handed (sometimes) putting German with the yips (sometimes), won a Masters Tournament that was gift wrapped for him by Curtis Strange. For three days, this 49th Masters was one of whimsy and cave-ins, knickers and adventurers' hats, acupuncture needles stuck in ears and wife-inspired secret game plans. But then on Sunday it was pure melodrama as Langer, his blond locks flowing, stalked the seemingly cool Strange, who had already won two tournaments in 1985, was the tour's leading money-winner and now may have been thinking about how he'd look in his new green Masters jacket.
There Strange was, the Silky Sullivan of Augusta. He had opened with a dismal 80 on Thursday. 12 shots off Gary Hallberg's leading 68, but by Sunday, with only six holes remaining, it was his tournament. He had just birdied the treacherous little 12th, and had a two-stroke lead with the guts of the course behind him. Then he hit into the water twice—first with a weak metal second shot to the par-5 13th, then with a wretched four-iron second shot to the par-5 15th—and made two disastrous bogeys. Langer, taking his sweet Teutonic time, had four birdies in the caldron of the last seven holes, including a clinching birdie with a 14-foot putt at the 17th, and came away with Strange's jacket.
Indeed, poignant though it was, Strange's debacle should not detract from one of the greatest finishes the Masters has seen as Langer, regarded worldwide as a tremendous iron player and a woeful putter—he putts cross-handed from inside 20 feet, regular from longer range—finished at six under par and two strokes ahead of Strange, Seve Ballesteros and Raymond Floyd.
Langer's victory was his first in a major—he has twice been runner-up in the British Open—as well as his first on the U.S. tour, and it moved the 27-year-old into the special category that had been predicted for him since he joined the U.S. circuit at the start of this season after six years as a dominant force in Europe. He also became the third foreigner to win the Masters, joining Ballesteros and Gary Player.
The son of a bricklayer, Langer was born and raised in Anhausen, West Germany, a country with only one public golf course. Langer is stylish and attractive, 5'9" and 155 pounds, with a wry sense of humor. When asked who is the second-best golfer in his country's history, he said, "I think Tony Kugelmüller. Good luck with the spelling." Langer added that there are approximately 130,000 golfers in West Germany, which would make things a little crowded on weekends were it not for the country's nearly 200 private courses.
Langer is known for a methodical style, a plodding approach that occasionally gets him in trouble. He was fined $500 three weeks ago at the TPC, and it didn't escape Masters officials' notice that he was playing very slowly on Sunday. Luckily, no penalty was imposed at Augusta where the price isn't money, but two strokes, exactly Langer's margin of victory. Langer is married to an American, Vikki, whom he met on a Florida golf course, and he tries to teach her 10 German words a day. Langer incessantly analyzes everything. He and his English caddie, Pete Coleman, measure the yardage at every tournament. First Coleman does it. The next day, Langer goes over the course again with a measuring wheel, just to double-check the figures. And he is forever changing clubs. At Augusta he switched irons and putters after struggling Thursday and Friday to tepid rounds of 72 and 74. "Sometimes we use different sets in every tournament," says Coleman.
Langer was the leader on the European circuit in both 1981 and '84. In 1979 he won the World Under-25 Championship by a whopping 17 strokes. He won the French, Dutch, Irish and Spanish Opens last year, yet in his own country he received scant attention, failing even to be nominated for Sportsperson of the Year honors.
Langer won at Augusta because he conquered his nemesis—the yips, those maddening spells of nerves that usually victimize older players, but which almost drove Langer from the game while still a young man. At Augusta, Langer seemed right at home on greens notorious for their linoleum surfaces. And to his credit, when Strange opened the door, the West German was willing to walk through, sinking birdie putts of 13, 3, 4 and 14 feet on the 12th, 13th, 15th and 17th holes, respectively.
Only a course with the character of Augusta National would have induced Strange to select his four-wood—four-metal, really—for his second shot at the 13th hole, a 465-yard dogleg left that normally is a softy for birdies. His playing partner, Floyd, the 54-hole leader, was struggling and now five strokes behind, and Strange held that two-stroke lead over Langer, who had birdied 13 and was playing the 14th. Another two strokes back were Ballesteros and Jay Haas.
Maybe Strange thought he was hot—he was four-under par for the round, had played the last 47 holes 15 under and was coming off that birdie at 12—or maybe it was that he attended Wake Forest on a scholarship funded by Arnold Palmer, and Arnie always sneered at caution. Go down with your boots on, Arnie said.