Langer has Ryder Cup ambitions

Those wondering what had happened to Bernhard Langer since he captained Europe to their record-breaking Ryder Cup win two years ago now know.

He is alive and well and trying to show he still has a game that might help beat the Americans again at the K Club in Ireland in September.

A giant himself earlier in his career, Langer claimed the biggest scalp on the opening day of the Accenture World Match Play Championship at La Costa in California yesterday when he knocked out world number four Ernie Els.

Seeded only 61st of the 64-strong field the 48-year-old German edged past Els on a day when nine of the 17 Europeans won and Tiger Woods set a tournament record with a 9&8 demolition of Stephen Ames.

Woods was on fire against a man who, perhaps unwisely, had said earlier in the week: “Anything can happen, especially where he hits it.” The world number one set off with six birdies and won every hole in a front nine 29.

Speaking of being on fire, Langer talked after his win about one particular memory he has of playing on the San Diego course.

“I was here in 1986 and in the Wednesday pro-am one of my partners goes: 'There’s smoke up there’. We look up at the beautiful homes on top of the hill and he said: ‘Heck, that’s my house on fire’.

“He ran up the hill as fast as anybody could run. I’m not sure it burned down, but it was pretty bad.”

Langer’s performance against Els did not contain any drama like that, but it was his first victory in the event since he beat Vijay Singh back in 1999. He lost to eventual winner Jeff Maggert in the following round.

The double Masters champion has not won a tournament since he tied for the 2002 Volvo Masters with Colin Montgomerie – himself through the opening hurdle at La Costa after five extra holes against Niclas Fasth.

But far from biding his time until he turns 50 next year and becomes eligible for seniors golf, Langer has ambitions for this season.

On his bid to earn what would be an 11th Ryder Cup cap to equal Nick Faldo’s record he said: “I am way down there at the bottom and I have got my work cut out, but it can change any week.

“We will do the best we can and see if Woosie (Ian Woosnam, his successor as captain) might be interested.”

Langer was playing Canadian Mike Weir in today’s second round, while Montgomerie faced Japan's Shingo Katayama, conqueror of Paul McGinley.

Scot Montgomerie survived against Fasth despite shooting a five-over-par 77 and after seeing a four-hole lead wiped out, but he said: “It does not matter what hole – it’s nice to win.

“I have had a difficult time the last month missing a couple of cuts and I was hoping to get some confidence here.”

Lee Westwood was not short of that after his fifth place finish in Los Angeles last Sunday, but the Worksop player lost to Scott Verplank after a 26-hole marathon. It equalled he longest match in the event’s history.

David Howell needed 22 to beat Steve Elkington and go through to face Verplank and the only European to have things relatively easy was Padraig Harrington, a 4&2 winner over another Australian, Rod Pampling.

“I played average and capitalised on his mistakes,” said Harrington, the only Irish survivor with Graeme McDowell being crushed by Vijay Singh and 2000 winner Darren Clarke losing to Shigeki Maruyama in addition to McGinley’s exit.

Ian Poulter had a chance for revenge over defending champion David Toms after losing to him in last year’s semi-finals, but lost when he needed two attempts to get out of a greenside bunker on the first extra hole.

Next up for Harrington was Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, while Luke Donald was up against Maruyama following his 2&1 success over Richard Green.

The other Europeans still alive in an event which offers a first prize of roughly €1m are Swedes Carl Pettersson and Henrik Stenson, who ended the hopes of Paul Casey on the last, and Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The 34th seed beating the 31st seed does not look a notable achievement, but for Jimenez it was.

The man he knocked out was Rory Sabbatini, the South African who leads the US Tour money list and won the Nissan Open last weekend.

Langer, meanwhile, has some advice for Tom Lehman, another through to the last 32 – do not try to be a playing-captain in the Ryder Cup.

“I have talked to him a little bit about the captaincy – I am not giving any real secrets away – and I think if Tom makes the team he will probably give the captaincy to someone else.

“I don’t think it would be a wise decision for anybody to try to do both and I think Tom will realise in a few months how many demands there will be on his time.”

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