With the help of an eagle 3 on the 13th hole, the 35-year-old Langer kept his challengers out of reach with a steely 2-under-par 70 and a 72-hole score of 11-under 277. That was good enough to give him the Masters championship for the second time. His first came eight years ago, and he hadn't won a major since then.
"Obviously, you start to wonder if you can win again," Langer said. "I really felt, after I won the first one, that it would be a lot easier to win a second one. I came close to winning the British Open the same year I won the Masters, but I had a bad final day."
There was nothing bad about this final day. In addition to his eagle, Langer carded two birdies and 1-putted five greens to save pars. He also suffered two bogeys - the second at No. 18, when it didn't matter anymore.
It was the first time Langer had broken par in the final round of the Masters since his victory in 1985, when he pretty much introduced himself to the American golfing public with the win that served to have him labeled as an opportunist.
That was the Masters of Curtis Strange's memorable collapse, which saw him blow a 3-shot lead with six holes to play and allow Langer to sneak to the top. Lucky, some said.
Six years later, Langer returned to the spotlight in the United States in the 1991 Ryder Cup matches at Kiawah Island, S.C., where he missed a six-foot putt on the final hole of the final match on the final day to allow the host country to take the trophy from Europe. A choke artist, many called him.
The charges were unwarranted, but Langer could care less about how he was perceived.
"I know there might be some people out there who say Curtis lost it and I didn't win it," he said. "I don't agree with that. A win is a win. Whoever has the lowest score after 72 holes is the winner. That's the game of golf.
"The Ryder Cup is more or less forgotten, although you (reporters) will never forget it and remind me about it the rest of my life. I have to live in the future, not in the past. I've dealt with the Ryder Cup. I'm sorry for my teammates because I let them down, but I did my best. It's in the past, and it's time to move on."
Langer kept his mind on the moment yesterday, repelling early challenges by Dan Forsman and Chip Beck before leaving the field in his exhaust with his brilliant back-nine stroll.
Beck, his playing partner, matched Langer's 70 and took second at 281. The foursome of John Daly, Steve Elkington, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Lehman shared third at 283, and Forsman, who found disaster with a quadruple-bogey 7 at the par-3 12th, tied Jose Maria Olazabal another shot back at 284.
As dominant as he was late in the round, Langer had some touchy moments earlier in the day.
First Forsman birdied three holes on the back side to cut a 4-shot deficit to 1 at the turn, while Beck stood 2 back.
Langer flirted with the water to the left of the green at the par-4 11th hole, where he pulled his second shot and landed it on the left fringe, with only a couple of yards to spare.
"I thought it was in the water," Langer said. "I honestly did."
While Langer saved par on that hole, Forsman fell out of the race at the 12th, where he hit both his 7-iron tee shot and his third stroke into the water in front of the green and dropped from 8 under to 4 under.
That made it a head-to-head matchup between Langer and Beck. Beck missed a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 12, while Langer saved par from six feet to keep the margin at 2.
Then came the pivotal par-5 13th, where Langer reached the green with a 3- iron second shot. Beck also reached in 2, and he 2-putted for birdie. Langer drained a 20-footer for eagle and a 3-stroke lead.
Augusta National's other legendary par 5 on the back nine also played a key role in Langer's victory.
Langer laid up in front of the pond that fronts the green and turned to watch Beck, who was undecided about whether to go for the green in 2 and later chose to lay up, even though he trailed by 3.
"I had 236 yards to the front," Beck said. "I didn't want to throw away one hole with one shot because I was playing so well. I'd been swinging so well that there was no question I'd hit a good shot. It was just whether that good shot would be good enough."
Langer, however, said he felt Beck had no choice but to go for it.
"I was a little surprised that he laid up there," he said. "It's easier to say afterward that he should have done this or that. But if I was in his shoes, I would have gone for it if I had any chance of reaching the green."