Professional golfer Miguel A. Jimenez competes in the second round of the Greater Gwinnett Championship golf tournament at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth on Saturday. Jimenez leads after two days of play. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — Bernhard Langer, the Champions Tour points leader and last year’s winner at the Greater Gwinnett Championship, made a big push on the back nine to forge a tie with Miguel Angel Jimenez on Saturday.
Langer rattled off six birdies between the 10th and 17th holes to get to 8-under with Jimenez.
But the rookie came through at the very end to hold onto his lead.
Jimenez, in his Champions debut at TPC Sugarloaf, birdied the 18th to finish one shot up with a 2-under-70. Jimenez, at 9-under for the tournament, has a chance to become just the third wire-to-wire winner in their inaugural tour event.
“I wasn’t hitting as well as yesterday,” Jimenez said of his opening-round 65. “But still to make under par was good, you know?”
Langer flirted with snapping a streak of 17 sub-par rounds with a 1-over front nine. But he went on a tear after the turn to draw even with Jimenez with one hole to play.
“He’s very competitive,” Jimenez said. “Very steady and methodic with everything.”
Langer had a chance for eagle, and the lead, from 30 feet on the par-5 18th.
“I really started playing nicely on the back,” Langer said. “I drove the ball a little better, hit my irons closer, made a few putts.”
The 18th wasn’t one of those.
“If it hadn’t been for the three-putt on 18, I would have shot 30 on the back, which is a really good score,” Langer said.
But he still holds second place alone, one shot ahead of Fred Couples. The trio, which played so well last week at the Masters, tees off together at 1 p.m. today for the final round.
“I’m exited to play with Miguel and Bernhard, and that’s about as good a pairing as you’re going to get,” Couples said. “I’m thrilled about that, to have a shot at winning. I do like the course. It played hard yesterday and hard today and it’s a tiring walk, but to have a shot at winning, you’ve got to play well.
“I can’t go out there and play mediocre against those two guys — or for that matter anyone else at 4- or 5-under.”
Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that those who made noise at Augusta should be at the top of the leaderboard at Sugarloaf. The courses set up similarly, which was why the former PGA stop here a week before the Masters was so popular with players.
“Probably when you come in for a major like the Masters in this case and you are playing well there, you are like in tune,” Jimenez said. “You see also Langer is playing very well two rounds in a row and also Fred Couples.
“It will be a nice match tomorrow. (But) you have to beat not only one or two players, (you have) to beat the field.”
Five players finished at 5-under, including Jay Haas and Chien Soon Lu, who both shot 68.
Haas and Lu used their own birdie spurts to put themselves in position headed for the final day. After opening-round 71s, they finished Saturday tied for fourth with Duffy Waldorf, Kenny Perry and Steve Pate.
“I played awfully well today, made some nice saves,” Haas said. “But the course is playing hard for me. The ball’s just not going anywhere. It’s a long golf course. I’ve managed to drive it in the fairway a lot of times and gotten some good opportunities.
“It’s been fun. I’ve had a good start to the year and I’m glad that it’s kind of continuing here.”
Haas, who four top-five finishes in five events this season, made birdie on four out of six holes starting on No. 5.
“The key to my round was No. 4,” Haas said. “I hit two good shots, had 60 yards and I hit it a little fat, hit the bank, went down into the creek. I barely got it out, just on the fringe, and I chipped in for a par.
“So all of a sudden it looks like I might make bogey or double and I make par and I’m 3-under in the next three holes. That was a stretch that kept me going right there.”
Lu, a bright spot on the gray day in his electric blue shirt and pants, also strung together four birdies over seven holes to move up the leaderboard.
“Whoever is going to win tomorrow is going to have to play some really good golf,” Langer said.