Bernhard Langer has won more than 100 golf tournaments worldwide during his World Golf Hall of Fame career.
His play at the Wakonda Club in the Principal Charity Classic has been an exception.
But Friday, Langer looked like someone about to change that. Arriving in Des Moines on the heels of back-to-back major championship victories at the Regions Tradition and Senior PGA Championship, Langer shot a 6-under-par 66 and shares the lead after the first round of the Principal Charity Classic.
“I’ve never cracked it really,” Langer said of Wakonda, hosting this PGA TOUR Champions stop for a fifth time. “I had a couple of good runs at it, But I never got comfortable. Today, I played very solid.”
Langer had seven birdies and one bogey, and shares the lead with Glen Day and Kevin Sutherland. Defending champion Scott McCarron and former Principal champions Mark Calcavecchia and Russ Cochran are in a group just one shot back.
Langer’s previous low round at Wakonda had been a 68 in the first round of the 2015 tournament.
“I figured I had the game if I can win just about anywhere else in the world 105 times,” said the two-time Masters champion and winner of nine PGA TOUR Champions majors. “I’m a strong believer if you play well, you can play anywhere. And I haven’t done that here. I’ve had one or two good rounds, but I’ve never put three good rounds together. So hopefully we’ll break that this week and do better.”
Day started on the back nine and went birdie-eagle-birdie in a three-hole stretch starting at No. 14.
“I told my caddie, I played a lot better in the last month but I haven’t scored as good,” Day said. “I’d rather have the score.”
The forecast for the weekend is for temperatures near 100 and winds blowing at or in excess of 30 mph. Day, who has played in plenty of wind in his native Oklahoma, hopes the forecast is accurate.
“I don’t oppose it, trust me,” Day said. “I would rather have it. I’d rather the scores not be 20 under. That’s better for me.”
Sutherland, who also had a bogey-free round, has seven Top 10 finishes on the PGA TOUR Champions this season.
“It’s been a little shot, here or there, that’s prevented me from getting really close to winning or winning at all,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland had one victory and 48 Top 10 finishes in a PGA TOUR career that covered 447 events. It was a runner-up finish in the 1992 Ben Hogan Hawkeye Open at Finkbine in Iowa City that gave Sutherland’s career a big boost.
“That was a good week for me, I remember it vividly,” Sutherland said. “I think I three-putted the last hole to miss a playoff. But I got on the PGA TOUR shortly after and stayed out there. That (1992) was the year that got me going in the right direction.”
McCarron was 1 over par through seven holes, but rallied with a back-nine 31 that saw him birdie six of the final eight holes.
“It was a good comeback,” McCarron said. “You can’t win the tournament the first day, but you can certainly lose it. I was not doing very well on the front nine, and then I made a really strong finish.”
McCarron bogeyed the par-5 5th hole when his tee shot hit a tree and kicked 50 yards left out-of-bounds. That snapped a streak of 51 consecutive holes without a bogey going back to last year. He also 3-putted No. 14 from 14 feet for his second bogey. McCarron had just one bogey the entire tournament last year.
“Knowing the weekend is going to be very difficult, I didn’t want to be too far behind,” McCarron said of his rally down the stretch.
Jerry Kelly, Scott Verplank and Brant Jobe joined the trio of former Principal champions at 67.
Calcavecchia , a winner in 2015, and Cochran, who took the title in 2013, have both had injury issues this year. Cochran missed most of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. Then he had a heart issue in January, and doctors inserted two stents.
“There are a lot of people out here who play in pain and don’t have the flexibility or ability they used to have,” Cochran said. “So I fall right in line with those guys. I think the challenge is to see if we can get our bodies to work. I used to say that it was 95 percent golf, and five percent maintenance. Now I’m just about the opposite.”
Wakonda feels like home for Calcavecchia, who grew up 31/2 hours away in Laurel, Neb.
“This is probably my favorite tournament,” said Calvacecchia, who has been seeing a chiropractor for his bad back. “Any time that you’ve won at a place, it jumps right up to the top of your list.”
Like he did in 2015, Calvacecchia was wearing slacks with a bacon design during Friday’s round. He doesn’t plan the same attire Saturday, when heat is expected to be a factor.
“These pants are more suited for 58 degrees than 98 degrees,” Calcavecchia said. “I think I’ll go with something a little lighter.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter