Langer looks to defy the odds at Augusta National

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Let's start with the smile, because Bernhard Langer doesn't smile very often. Not inside the ropes, at least. Not when he's all business. Not even when he's pouring in six birdies during the third round of the Masters, turning back the clock while climbing the leaderboard.

That's what made it so jarring when the 58-year-old walked off Augusta National's final green on Saturday afternoon, acknowledged the gallery's standing ovation and finally broke character. For the first time all day, his Teutonic scowl melted away, revealing a smile that told a story.

It told us about a man who has competed in this tournament 33 times, who won the first of his two titles way back in 1985, who was given no chance to ever contend against the long-hitting flat bellies who dominate the game's elite level these days.

It was a smile of satisfaction after a 2-under 70 that eventually left him in a share of third place at day's end, just a couple of strokes behind leader and defending champion Jordan Spieth.

"We're not playing tennis or soccer or football, where it all comes down to speed and strength," Langer explained afterward. "Golf is a lot more about knowing yourself and technique. Just thinking your way around the golf course and then execution."

He makes it sound so simple. He makes it sound like no big deal, that beating world-class players less than half his age at the game's most prestigious golf tournament on a 7,435-yard course isn't utterly remarkable.

Well, he's wrong.

It's amazing.

Don't just take my word for it. Instead, I've compiled a top-10 list on the most amazing facts about a 58-year-old being in serious contention entering the final round of the Masters.

10. When the Official World Golf Ranking was first introduced 30 years ago this week, Langer was No. 1 on the list. Now's he's No. 1,080. On Saturday, he played with the current world No. 1 in Jason Day -- and beat him by a stroke.

9. Langer's second green jacket came in 1993 -- three months before Spieth was born.

8. When Langer won his first green jacket, he represented West Germany, a country which has been dissolved for 26 years now.

7. Langer is 12 years older than the combined age of Sunday's final pairing that will be playing directly behind him on the course in Spieth and Smylie Kaufman.

6. This week marks Langer's 33rd career Masters appearance. The other top six players on the current leaderboard have combined for 24 appearances.

5. The longest stretch between a player's first Masters title and his last is 23 years. It is, of course, that of the venerable Jack Nicklaus. With a victory, Langer would beat that by eight.

4. Langer is five months older than Nicklaus was when he incredulously finished in a share of sixth place at the 1998 Masters -- the oldest player to ever have a top-10 result at Augusta National.

3. Langer's first Masters victory came just 13 days after Villanova won its last NCAA men's basketball title -- until this week.

2. Langer owns 24 career wins on the 50-and-over Champions Tour alone. A victory on Sunday would make an even 100 victories in his professional career.

And the No. 1 reason why Langer is so amazing ...

1. If he wins this tournament on Sunday, if he overcomes the odds and beats a group of the world's best golfers, he'll become the oldest major champion of all time -- by more than 10 years.

Even with all of these astounding facts, Langer was hardly wide-eyed at his own accomplishments so far.

When asked how he could keep up with the youngsters on such a long golf course, he explained that he switched his usual 3-iron out for a hybrid. When questioned what it's like to be some 50 to 60 yards behind his playing partners off the tee, he simply responded that it places more of a premium on accuracy.

That doesn't mean Langer won't dream just a little bit.

He thinks he can win this tournament. Sure, he said, it depends on the weather and how his fellow contenders play, but he thinks he can post a 67 or 68 in calmer conditions on Sunday and possibly claim the green jacket for a third time.

What would that mean to him?

"Well, it would be one for the old guys," he said. "It's going to happen sooner or later. The guys are staying fit. They are more athletes. They are taking care of themselves. We see it amongst the young guys, but as they get older, they are going to be in better shape. And it's just a matter of time."

With this, Langer smiled again. He doesn't smile very often when he's all business, but he's giving himself plenty of reason to this week, with that unexpected grin telling a story every time.