Langer leads Champions

NEWPORT BEACH — Bernhard Langer has seen some of his peers go from the Champions Tour to the PGA Tour and achieve success. But the 53-year-old does not want to follow suit because he thinks "bouncing back and forth doesn't do a whole lot."

The two-time Masters champion (1985, 1993) also enjoys the Champions Tour for golfers 50 and older. Who could blame him? He has been ruling the tour for the last three years.

Last year, Langer, a native of Germany, became the first player on the Champions Tour to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy (player of the year) and Arnold Palmer Award (leading money winner) for three straight years.

He is the meister of this tour. That's German for champion.

Langer will attempt to maintain his momentum at the 17th Toshiba Classic this weekend at Newport Beach Country Club. First-round play begins Friday in the $1.7-million tournament, which will pay the winner $255,000.

"Some guys still enjoy playing out there" on the PGA Tour, said Langer, who won at Newport Beach in 2008. "Some still think they need to prove something out there. I have been done there, done that, moving on. I'm very happy with this tour."

As he should be. Langer is coming off a big win Feb. 20 in the ACE Group Classic at Naples, Fla. He shot 20-under-par 196 — a tournament record — and picked up his first win of the year and his 14th on the Champions Tour. He is no stranger to winning, with more than 90 titles on different tours worldwide.

"[My] game is in pretty decent shape," Langer said. "We had two weeks off, so you never know. But I seem to be hitting the ball all right … I'm looking forward to this. It looks like we're going to have a great week of wonderful weather and conditions, a pretty strong field. We should have a great champion this week."

Last year, Fred Couples came within a shot of breaking the tournament record on his way to a victory in the Toshiba Classic.

Couples returns to defend his title, and he is coming off a strong showing last month in the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open, where he tied for seventh. But the fan favorite appeared weathered Thursday after playing in the pro-am.

It's the same back pain that has caused him discomfort for years.

"I'm sure people are tired of hearing about it," he said.

But since he played at Riviera Country Club, the back has only gotten worse, Couples said.

"But I can swing a club," he said. "So I won't do this very long. If I come out here [Friday] or Saturday or Sunday and feel like this, someone is going to have to tell me why I would want to do this."

Couples will go to Texas after this tournament to try to figure out what is wrong with his back. He said he loves the Newport Beach course. That's one reason he wants to play here, and it's a reason for most on the Champions Tour. The par-71 course is a short one, 6,591 yards, the second-shortest on the Champions Tour.

Lee Trevino was not ashamed to say it's a reason he chose this as the only event he will play this year, because he has a chance to shoot his age. He would need to shoot par for that.

Even Ian Baker-Finch is getting in on the fun. The popular TV analyst is making his Champions Tour debut at Newport Beach.

Tom Watson went low last year, 62, in his final round and finished tied for fifth. He's back and in a group with Couples and Ben Crenshaw that's sure to attract a large gallery in the first round.

John Cook, who owns a home nearby in Corona del Mar, is also in the tournament. He has a victory this year and is coming off a third-place finish Feb. 27 at the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico. It is the best PGA Tour finish for a Champions Tour player this year.

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