German Open
German Open
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Langer aims to break victory drought

Four European Tour players are using the German Open as part of their final warm-up as they prepare to play in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, N.C., next week.

But possibly the most dangerous performer in the field is one who no longer has any right to play in the U.S. major.

Sam Torrance, Peter Baker, Andrew Coltart and Sven Struver are the quartet who will be hoping that the tight, narrow fairways of the Sporting Club of Berlin will stand them in good stead when they get to the other side of the Atlantic early next week.

As they go, Bernhard Langer is staying at home -- and he might just have a cheque for £119,000 to lessen his unhappiness that his last remaining exemptions have now expired.

Langer is the one member of Europe's Famous Five -- the others are Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam -- who is still operating at maximum efficiency as he moves well into his forties.

No matter where Langer plays, no matter how he feels --- he has not always been the fittest world-class golfer on the planet -- he continues to be a contender whenever he pegs the ball up. Woosnam is still capable of occasionally stirring himself to something worthwhile, but the rest are no longer valid or consistent competitors on a world, or even, domestic stage any more.

The pressure on Langer is always intense, but it is amazing how often he comes up with the goods when playing in his native land. He has won 10 European Tour events in Germany, with five of them coming in this, his national championship.

"Playing in Germany is more of a challenge to me," he said. "There are a lot of demands on my time. My time for practice is very short, but I've done well in front of my home crowd in the past and I always look forward to coming back to Germany to play."

"My game in the first two rounds in the PGA Championship at Wentworth was good, but then it deteriorated and I don't quite know where it is at the moment. Having said that, I haven't done too badly in the last few weeks as I've finished seventh, 11th and seventh. It's just a matter of putting four rounds together.

"One of my goals is to make the Ryder Cup team again this year, but we still have a long way to go, so we'll see. Every time we play the match we have some young guys coming in to join the experienced, tough guys and it's proved to work well."

One of Langer's main challengers might be John Bickerton, the surprise package of the tour this year. After a magnificent start to the season, the cheerful Midlander faded somewhat in recent weeks, missing four cuts out of five appearances and finishing well down the field in the one he did see through to the weekend.

But Bickerton exploded back on the scene with a resounding bang over the weekend, pushing Darren Clarke every inch of the way before falling two short of the Irishman's 20-under-par total. He's hoping he has managed to bring that form to the Sporting Club course.

"I've had people ringing me up since Sunday, friends to congratulate as well as management companies wanting to know if they could represent me," he said. "To join a management company is a big commitment to make, and I'm going along nicely on my own.

"I've had a few nibbles, but I'm not going to rush into anything. It just shows how quickly people can sit up and take notice. It's enjoyable, though, and definitely preferable to the alternative."

Through his years of toil and occasional heartbreak on the minor European tours, he can at last let himself think of such things as playing in the Open Championship and the Ryder Cup.

"I've played in the Open only once, at St. Andrews in 1995," he said. "I went through all the final qualifying at Leven Links, then in the tournament proper I went and missed the cut. It's not an easy tournament to get into and I desperately want to avoid the hassle of qualifying.

"There are places available for five people not exempt until the event at Loch Lomond the week before the Open, and I'm leading that race at the moment. That's good, but I'm not taking anything for granted.

"There is a lot of golf to be played around that time, and the last thing I want to be doing is embarking on a mad dash from Loch Lomond to try to qualify for St Andrews. It would be lovely to be exempt. I'm not even in Loch Lomond yet, although I've written to them asking for an invite.

"I'll also worry about the Ryder Cup when the time comes. There is no point in thinking about it at the moment.

"I don't set any goals. I have said a number of times before that I used to set goals and then concentrated so much on trying to attain them that I forgot what I was doing. It had the opposite effect on me.

"I honestly think that goals happen if you remain positive. I'm going along very nicely, but the truth is that you never know what is just around the corner in this game, for good or bad."

Meanwhile, there was a small tale of woe to be related by Coltart.

"I was having dinner in the hotel last night and I felt a soreness in my chest," he said. "I thought it was some indigestion, or something like that, but the pain in my ribs did not subside."

Coltart finally accepted that there was a problem when he tried to hit a shot or two Wednesday morning and found the pain was getting worse.

A visit to the tour's mobile physiotherapy unit helped him with some improvement on the mystery injury, but Coltart was still fretting Wednesday night as he continued to race against time in his drive to reach Pinehurst 100 percent fit again.