DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Miguel Angel Jimenez’s starring role in the best Masters ever for players 50 and over was the perfect lead-in for his Champions Tour debut.
Jimenez finished fourth in the Masters and Bernhard Langer tied for eighth Sunday. STATS LLC confirmed it marked the first time two players 50 or over finished in the top eight.
Jimenez had the best Masters finish for a player 50 or over since Sam Snead, also 50, was third in 1963. Fred Couples, 54, finished tied for 20th after being in contention early in the final round.
Couples said “I honestly don’t think it’s shocking” to see the older golfers thrive in Augusta.
“To see Bernhard and obviously Jimenez – who just turned 50 but even if he was 49 – it’s still remarkable to play that well, but he’s a top-quality European player,” Couples said. “Bernhard is the best Champions Tour player, but he’s played Augusta a lot of times.”
Langer, 56, is the defending champion in the Champions Tour’s Greater Gwinnett Championship, which begins Friday at TPC Sugarloaf near Atlanta.
Langer on Thursday predicted Jimenez will “leave his mark” on the tour.
“He’s certainly one of the best over-50 players in the world, no doubt about it,” Langer said.
“He’s going to be one of the dominant players wherever he goes. … If he decides to play here, he’ll be one of the main competitors every week.”
Jimenez isn’t expected to become a regular on the Champions Tour this year. He said he remains focused on his goal of making the European Ryder Cup team.
“I am very close to getting on the team,” Jimenez said. “I’m playing the European Tour because if you don’t get the points, you don’t get on the team, and I would tend to get that chance.”
Jimenez, from Spain, has 20 wins on the European tour.
The strong finish in Augusta created a spotlight that will follow Jimenez to Sugarloaf TPC. Even so, Couples said Langer should be considered the favorite.
“Everyone knows how to play, but he’s not going to make many mistakes and he’s a great putter and has a great short game,” Couples said.
Langer had a final-round 69 in the Masters.
“That was a phenomenal round,” Couples said.
Langer won this season’s Champions Tour opening event in Hawaii. He leads the tour’s points and earnings standings.
Langer is working on a streak of 15 straight top-10 Champions Tour finishes, including five this year.
“I don’t know how you do it,” Couples said, adding “one day or nine holes or one bad hole” could snap the streak.
Langer said it was “amazing” he made it through the Masters when he was “really sick” with “flu and bronchitis and all sorts of stuff.”
“I spent all day Monday in bed,” Langer said. “I never hit a practice putt after I played. I never hit a practice ball after I played, which is not like me at all. I just signed my card and went home and back to bed.”