Kaupulehu-Kona, HI (SportsNetwork.com) - Bernhard Langer birdied five straight holes down the stretch to race past Fred Couples and win the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship by three strokes on Sunday.
Langer and Couples, the overnight co-leaders, were tied with Jeff Sluman late in the final round, but the German decisively put the tournament away, reeling off five consecutive birdies from the 13th.
He parred the last for a final-round, 8-under 64 at Hualalai Golf Club, finishing the event at 22-under 194 and wrapping up his 19th Champions Tour victory.
"It's a new year and my goal was to ... win as soon as possible and I'm very pleased and extremely blessed to play golf like this and to be 22-under for three rounds," Langer told Golf Channel. "It's something that doesn't happen very often."
Couples, who won the final event of the 2013 Champions Tour season, shot 67 and shared second place with Sluman (65) at 19-under.
Jay Haas carded a 65 to grab solo fourth at 17-under, first-round leader Rocco Mediate (67) took fifth at 16-under and Mark O'Meara (70) and David Frost (69) shared sixth at minus-15.
Langer began the tournament with an ailing right thumb, but his game didn't suffer. He fired a 64 on Saturday to share a 1-stroke advantage with Couples entering the final round.
Sluman applied pressure early Sunday, as he opened with two straight birdies to reach 14-under and catch the overnight leaders as they teed off.
Playing two groups ahead of Langer and Couples, Sluman was in the mix for much of the final round, as he added three more birdies to turn in 31, then birdied again at the 12th to reach 18-under.
Tied for the lead at that point, Sluman failed to keep pace, parring five straight before notching a birdie at the last to close at minus-19.
To be fair, no one kept pace with Langer.
He and Couples both birded the 13th to reach minus-18, but Langer didn't stop there.
He reached the green in two at the par-5 14th and two-putted from 35 feet to grab the outright lead. At the next, Langer dropped his approach within four feet and rolled home the birdie putt. He made it four straight with another deft approach and short putt at the 16th before dying an 8-foot birdie roll into the cup at the 17th, concluding the run and effectively wrapping up the win at 22-under.
Couples managed a birdie at the 16th during that span, then parred the last to end at 19-under. Earlier, he mixed four birdies and a bogey over his first 12 holes.
"At times it seemed like match play but there were other guys in the hunt too and we knew that," Langer said of his pairing with Couples. "I think we both knew that if we didn't get any birdies going we were going to get lapped so the good thing is we did have a decent start and we both played fairly well. I played extremely well, just missed a number of putts, but in the end it came down to the two of us and I was very fortunate to finish strong."
NOTES: Langer also won this event in 2009 ... Couples won the final event of the 2013 Champions Tour season, the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, where Langer tied for second ... Defending champ John Cook tied for 19th place at 8- under 208 ... The field was comprised of players who have won a Champions Tour major championship within the last five seasons or a Champions Tour co- sponsored and approved tournament in the last two years, plus sponsor exemptions.