AUGUSTA, Georgia The outstanding displays by veteran trio Miguel Angel Jimenez, Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples at the 78th Masters suggest that a 50-something major champion could be just around the corner.
American Julius Boros is the oldest winner of a 'Big Four' event, having triumphed in the 1968 U.S. PGA Championship at the age of 48, but his record has been in danger of falling several times in recent years.
Greg Norman went close in the 2008 British Open at Birkdale at the age of 53 and Tom Watson was nearer still in the same championship at Turnberry a year later, agonizingly missing out to fellow American Stewart Cink in a playoff at the age of 59.
Couples, Langer and Jimenez have featured prominently on major leader boards in recent seasons and it came as no surprise when they all mounted a title challenge at Augusta National on Sunday.
Langer and 1992 Masters winner Couples are seasoned campaigners on the Champions Tour and the American said their successes on the senior circuit was a big help when it came to mixing it with the young guns.
"The Champions Tour is tough but when you're winning all the time you feel like you're doing well when you come over on to this tour," the 54-year-old Couples told reporters after finishing 10 shots behind Masters champion Bubba Watson.
"It would be like winning the lottery to win this thing but you never know."
The 56-year-old Langer fared even better at Augusta, a closing 69 securing a share of eighth place, eight strokes adrift of Watson.
Langer said the veterans had sent out a statement after six 50-plus competitors made the cut at the opening major championship of the season.
Asked what kind of statement, he replied: "What do you think? I think everybody can figure that out.
"There are a lot of good over-50 players. We can compete at the highest level and even on a very, very long golf course like this one."
Couples described 1985 and 1993 Masters winner Langer as probably the hardest working player on the Champions Tour.
"He has probably played this event for 30 years or more," said the smooth-swinging American. "You get to know the course, you know the wind, you know how to play it.
"Is it surprising? I don't think he's going to tell you it's surprising but when you look at a 56-year-old and he finishes in the top 10, that's something."
Jimenez, who finished fourth on Sunday, said the form of the golden oldies was down to improved fitness levels and equipment.
"They are being more healthy," the 50-year-old Spaniard explained. "I love the game, I love competing and probably that is the reason.
"Technology helps too, of course. But if you don't know how to hit the ball then technology doesn't do anything."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)