Slocum Miss Gives Calcavecchia PODS Win

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ Mark Calcavecchia has gone through his share of ups and downs, from winning a British Open to finishing countless rounds without a full set of clubs because some of them wound

Monday, March 12th 2007, 6:17 am

By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ Mark Calcavecchia has gone through his share of ups and downs, from winning a British Open to finishing countless rounds without a full set of clubs because some of them wound up at the bottom of ponds.

Never has he felt such a wild swing in one week.

Calcavecchia packed his bags Thursday night because he figured he would miss the cut. Now he has to make room for an unlikely trophy from his one-shot victory Sunday in the PODS Championship that kept him guessing to the very end.

He missed a 7-foot par for the victory.

Moments later, he watched Heath Slocum's 4-foot par putt to force a playoff dip in and out of the cup.

The biggest surprise was that it nearly left Calcavecchia speechless.

``From where I was Thursday, maybe it's just a fairy-tale week,'' he said. ``This stuff doesn't happen to me _ from bottom to top in three days. I know things happen in a hurry in this game, but that's a record for me. From no chance, no hope, missed cut to victory. I'm just stunned.''

So was Slocum.

He recovered from a double bogey on the second hole and a four-hole deficit at the turn to play brilliantly on the back nine of the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, only to three-putt the final hole from 25 feet.

``I had an opportunity. That's all I wanted,'' Slocum said. ``I was hoping for a little better outcome.''

Calcavecchia closed with a 1-under 70 for the 13th victory of his career, and one he never saw coming. His 75 in the first round was the highest by a PGA Tour winner in 10 years, dating to Jeff Sluman in Tucson in 1997.

The payoff was handsome.

Calcavecchia earned $954,000 to go over $20 million for his career, and moved up to No. 7 on the PGA Tour money list. If he can stay inside the top 10 over the next two weeks, he'll earn a trip to the Masters.

And a chunk of that goes to his caddie, Eric Larson, one of the most likable loopers on the PGA Tour who got caught up in a small-time drug operation and paid a steep price. He spent 11 years in prison, and Calcavecchia promised him a job when he got out last year.

``He's been a great friend throughout the whole ordeal,'' Larson said. ``I'm thankful and grateful for my friends who stood by me.''

Calcavecchia finished at 10-under 274, taking only 73 putts over the final three rounds with a Ping putter he bought last weekend for $256.18 _ he knows the price because he rarely buys any club.

Slocum (71) and John Senden (66) finished one shot behind. Lucas Glover, among five players who had a share of the lead at some point on a sunny afternoon, three-putted the 18th in a bold bid to make birdie to keep alive his hopes. He wound up with a 69 and tied for fourth with Brian Gay (69). Charles Howell III shot 65 and was another stroke behind with defending champion K.J. Choi (72).

Calcavecchia has suffered from creaky joints, back and foot injuries and sleep apnea over the past few years. The biggest fear Sunday was the shape of his heart, not only from such a wild week but a nervy final round.

He holed a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 13th and followed that with a 20-footer for another birdie on the 14th. With a chance to seal the victory, he then missed a 4-foot birdie try on the 15th.

``I just got nervous,'' he said. ``Maybe it was inside my range.''

After a bogey on the 16th in which his 3-wood barely cleared the lake, he took a one-shot lead to the final hole.

With an 8-iron from 140 yards, he came up a yard short into grass so thick that Larson had to show him where it was. Calcavecchia chopped it out to 7 feet, played too much break and caught the right side of the cup.

Slocum had a 25-foot birdie putt that was difficult because the ball picks up speed around the hole. He left it 4 feet short and was shocked to see it lip out for bogey. He played on the same high school team as Boo Weekley, who last week missed a 3-foot par that would have won the Honda Classic.

``It's ironic we both missed putts on the last hole,'' he said. ``Maybe next time, we'll both make them.''

From the time he stuffed his approach to 2 feet on the second hole for birdie, Calcavecchia never lost the lead, and he built the margin to three shots when he knocked in a 10-foot birdie on the tough sixth hole to reach 11 under. But he slipped into a tie with a pair of bogeys, and the fun began on the 11th when he regained the lead with a wedge into 3 feet.

From there, the only routine hole was a two-putt for par on the 17th _ there were unlikely birdies, blown misses and a few hairy moments when Calcavecchia left himself enough length on par putts to make his heart skip.

``I didn't want this to be a tournament where I looked back and made bogey on two of the last three holes to lose,'' he said.

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