NEWPORT BEACH — On a gorgeous, sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at Newport Beach Country Club, the leaderboard was a virtual revolving door during the second round of the 2023 Hoag Classic.
Eight different players had at least a share of the lead, including a six-way tie at the top at one juncture during the back nine, before 45-time PGA Tour Champions winner Bernhard Langer emerged as the 36-hole leader after playing the final five holes in 5-under par.
During an up-and-down round in which he made three bogeys, Langer shot a 5-under 66 for a two-round total of 12-under par, one shot ahead of Miguel Angel Jimenez (67 on Saturday) and Doug Barron (66). Newport Beach resident Fred Couples, a two-time Hoag Classic champion, is two shots back at 10-under after back-to-back 66s, and tied for fourth with Brian Gay (65 on Saturday).
Langer, 65, will be in the final group with Jimenez and Barron in Sunday’s final round as he chases his 46th career Champions title, which would break a tie with fellow World Golf Hall of Famer Hale Irwin.
Is he looking ahead to the possibility?
“No . . . not going to go there until the last hole or two if it happens,” Langer said after Saturday’s round. “I’ve got a lot of work to do, a lot of golf to be played yet. There’s no point of dreaming about it at this point.”
With the field taking advantage of ideal scoring conditions, rain-softened greens and lift-clean-and-place rules for the second consecutive day, Newport Beach Country Club had no defense for the world’s best 50-and-over players. Forty-seven players in the 78-player field shot in the 60s on Saturday.
As a result, there are 12 players within four shots of the lead, including first-round co-leader Chris DiMarco (9-under total) and eight players tied at 8-under: Steve Stricker, Mike Weir, Darren Clarke, K.J. Choi, Thongchai Jaide, Rob Labritz and Monday qualifier Harry Rudolph.
“I think anybody within five shots of the lead has a chance,” Langer said. “There’s a whole bunch of guys and big names, good players. I have to go low.”
Couples, the 2010 and 2014 Hoag champion, is one of those big-name challengers and is attempting to become the first three-time champion in Newport Beach. He also has two runner-up finishes and has never finished out of the top 10 in eight previous Hoag Classic appearances.
“The chance of winning is always fun,” Couples said Saturday after his second consecutive bogey-free round. “I mean, three-time champ; probably no one here would know that except for us. But I really like course. The course is phenomenal.”
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Langer, Jimenez and DiMarco were tied for the lead after first-round 64s, and DiMarco birdied No. 1 on Saturday to become the first player to get to 8-under. But then his putter betrayed him, en route to four consecutive bogeys (including three 3-putts) to tumble down the leaderboard. He rallied on the back nine to shoot 69.
Despite what Langer called “scruffy” play in the middle of his round, two spectacular holes revived his title chances—a hole-out chip for birdie on the 207-yard, par-3 No. 8 and an eagle 3 on the par-5 15th.
On No. 8, Langer pulled his tee shot into deep rough left of the green—an area that usually leads to bogeys or worse—but he holed his chip for an improbable birdie. “It was a miracle,” Langer said “You give me 10,000 balls, I wouldn’t make another one.”
On the back nine, Langer birdied No. 14, eagled No. 15, birdied No. 17 and birdied the par-5 18th, getting up and down from in front of the green for a tap-in to grab the outright lead for the first time Saturday.