NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Ernie Els kept making birdies no matter how he gripped the putter Sunday, and it carried him to a 6-under 65 to win the Hoag Classic and deny Bernhard Langer a chance at setting the career victory mark on the PGA Tour Champions.
Els started the final round five shots behind Langer when the big South African rolled in three straight birdie putts to get in the mix, and he closed it out with a 65-yard bunker shot to 12 feet and a birdie on the 18th hole about the time Langer began to falter.
Langer has 45 career wins on the PGA Tour Champions, tied for the most with Hale Irwin. The 65-year-old German began the final round with a one-shot lead and picked up an early birdie. He was still tied for the lead when he made two bogeys on the back nine, and failed to make birdie on the par 5s.
Langer finished with a 2-over 73 and tied for seventh, three shots behind. He is in the field next week in Rancho Mirage, California, where he gets another shot at the record.
“It’s disappointing to shoot 73,” Langer said. “Obviously, Ernie had a great day, so my hat’s off to him, but I had a two-shot lead at one point in the round and would have loved to play a little better.”
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Els won for the first time since October 2020, and the Hall of Famer never had a win quite like this. He had been practicing with the “saw” putting grip at home in Florida last week, but wasn’t sure about whether to try it in a tournament.
He changed in the middle of the tournament, and then after missing a few, went back to a cross-handed grip. Either way, he was making enough putts to become a winner again.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Els said.
His biggest challenge after he finished came from Steve Stricker and Doug Barron. Stricker, who leads the Charles Schwab Cup standings, made birdies on the 14th and 15th, but he missed chances coming in and his birdie on the 18th for a 67 left him one behind.
Barron also finished one back after finishing with six straight pars for a 70.