SAMMAMISH, Wash. — Fred Couples took the safe route. It likely cost him a chance at winning his first major on the Champions Tour before his adoring hometown fans.
Instead, Bernhard Langer tapped in on the 18th on Sunday to win the U.S. Senior Open by three shots at Sahalee Country Club, capitalizing on Couples' one lone mistake to crash the party a partisan crowd was ready to throw for Couples.
Playing in an atmosphere more suited for a Ryder Cup than the final round of a major, Langer was undeterred by the more than 30,000 rooting for Couples, shooting a bogey-free 3-under 67 to win his second Champions Tour major in consecutive weeks.
"There was definitely them against me and for Freddie, you could feel that and that's not the case in a normal golf tournament," Langer said. "Normally the people when you hit a bad shot they keep quiet and when you hit it good they applaud for everyone. ... If I play my hometown they want me to win, it's quite normal and I knew I was going to be up against that but when you pull through that and you win in difficult circumstances it just means that much more."
A week after winning the Senior British Open title at Carnoustie, Langer finished at 8 under for the tournament, fighting off jet lag and the loud gallery to complete a daunting trans-Atlantic double.
But Langer's route to the title was made far easier by Couples' one mistake that proved impossible to recover from.
Already with a birdie in his pocket and a one-stroke lead after birding the opening hole, Couples' tee shot on the second drifted slightly right and into the first cut of rough.
He had 200 yards to the front of the green and 225 to the pin. Couples pulled his hybrid to go for the green, then put it back.
"I had never hit it (hybrid) in a spot like that," Couples said. "I thought if it's a cut shot, if I don't cut it, I'm going to rip it over the green. And as it turned out, where the pin was, it might not have been that bad."
His layup shot was fine, but his third shot from about 65 yards was chunked into the greenside pond, leaving everyone in a bit of shock.
"You know I've done it," Langer said. "It happens to most of us. They're pretty tight fairways out there, certain areas there's not a whole lot of grass there and it doesn't take much when you only have five yards to work with and that's about what he had, and it's easily done."
After dropping, Couples hit his fifth shot over the green, then needed a chip and two putts to finally walk off the second with an 8. Couples said it took him a while to get that hole out of his head. His concern was not so much over his chunk but his decision to lay up.
"If I could walk out there tomorrow, I would go for the green, no matter where I hit it," Couples said. "I think I would beat 8, that's for sure."
From there, Langer simply didn't make any mistakes to let Couples close. Langer dropped a long birdie putt at the third when Couples hit it close, then added a birdie at No. 6. He closed his round with 12 straight pars, including impressive saves at Nos. 8 and 9.
The closest Couples got was two shots after birdies at Nos. 14 and 16 — but it was too late.
"I never had the tee. He was up first all day. He hit it down the middle of every fairway," Couples said. "As I told him, he played eight great rounds to play the British Seniors and this without really a poor round of golf, which is tough to do."
Couples, who was runner-up at the Senior PGA Championship earlier this year, finished with an even 70. Olin Browne (65) and John Cook (67) were tied for third at 2 under. Tom Watson was alone in fifth at 1 over after shooting 66.
Langer became the first German to win any U.S. Golf Association championship and the first Champions Tour player to win back-to-back majors since Watson took the Senior British and JELD-WEN Tradition in 2003.
But Watson didn't travel eight time zones and win his titles on consecutive weekends like Langer, and with a massive audience rooting for his playing partner.
Langer's only moment of worry came at the 11th when he pulled his tee shot left. But instead of dropping into the deep rough or potentially ricocheting out of bounds, his ball deflected out into the middle of the fairway.
Otherwise, Langer was flawless. He was sixth in putting, 11th in fairways hit and third in greens in regulation for the week.
"It's hard to believe I won two back to back majors with an 8-hour time change in between and two very challenging golf courses," Langer said. "I probably played some of my best golf these last two weeks."