Thanks to a late-round putting-grip change, Ernie Els is a winner on the PGA Tour Champions for the first time in three years.
Meanwhile, Bernhard Langer’s record-setting victory is going to have to wait at least another week.
Els rode a 65-65 weekend to win the Hoag Classic at Newport Country Club in Newport Beach, California, on Sunday. He birdied Nos. 2, 3, and 4 to get things going, then birdied the seventh. After eight straight pars, he birdied the 16th to get to 12 under. He found himself in a bunker on 18 but got up-and-down, draining one final birdie to get to 13 under. Els went to a left-hand low grip on his last two birdie putts.
Steve Stricker and Doug Barron tied for second at 12 under. Barron started the day one shot back of the lead and needed a birdie at the last to get to 13 under. With Els hitting 7-irons on the range to stay loose, Barron stuffed his approach but then missed a four-footer for birdie that would have forced a playoff.
Els is the fifth different winner in five Champions tournaments in 2023.
Langer, who was at 12 under after 36 holes and held the solo lead after two days, built a two-shot lead Sunday but bogeys at Nos. 6, 9 and 14 did him in as he never really got anything going in the final round. A birdie on 11 was negated by his fourth bogey on 14. He then missed a short putt on 17 for his fifth bogey of the day before a closing par for a 73.
Langer won for a record-tying 45th time on the Champions tour a month ago. His next victory will break the record held by Hale Irwin since 2007. Langer’s first senior win came 10 months after Irwin’s last.
The PGA Tour Champions returns to action next week at the new Galleri Classic in Rancho Mirage, California, on the Mission Hills Country Club course that was home to an LPGA major for 51 years.