A Record Round Gives Calcavecchia A Share Of The Lead

Saturday, March 10th 2007, 6:10 pm
By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) -- Mark Calcavecchia felt confident about his game and fell in love with his putter. That's a rare combination for him, so he had a hunch that Saturday would bring him a good round in the PODS Championship.

He never could have imagined this.

The 46-year-old Calcavecchia made 10 birdies and tied the Copperhead course record at Innisbrook with a 9-under 62, going from the middle of the pack to a share of the lead with Heath Slocum, who birdied the last hole for a 67.

K.J. Choi shot 67 and was another shot behind.

"I don't see any reason why I can't finish it off," Calcavecchia said.

After the way his week started, it was still hard to believe he was in this position.

Coming off a missed cut at the Honda Classic, Calcavecchia opened with a 75 by taking 36 putts, then packed his bags that evening expecting to miss the cut. But he tried out a new putter that he bought over the weekend -- that's right, he paid for it himself -- and has been knocking in putts from everywhere.

He has taken only 46 putts over the last two days, and he finished the third round strong.

Calcavecchia hit a 3-iron into about 6 feet on the par-3 17th, then hit a sweeping hooking with a 7-iron out of a fairway bunker on the 18th and made a 20-foot birdie to tie the course record set by Jeff Sluman in the first round in 2004.

He and Slocum were at 9-under 204, but there work was far from finished. Five players were within three shots of the lead, including Lucas Glover (67) and Chris DiMarco (69), and a dozen others were within five shots.

Calcavecchia rarely lacks for entertainment, especially when it comes to his putting.

It got so bad last week at the Honda Classic that after making a short birdie putt on his 12th hole, he stepped it off shoe-to-shoe to measure the distance (and found out later it was 4 feet, 2 inches).

"That was the longest of the week," he said.

After missing the cut, he went to a golf retail store looking for a long-handled putter, didn't like the choices and settled on a conventional Ping model that suited his eye and cost him $256.18. It's probably a good thing that he paid for it, because that would be less incentive to break it. That goes into his decision on which putter to use.

"I just kind of look at it and see which one looks less ugly to me," he said. "Or which one I really wouldn't mind breaking some time during the course of the round."

He also made a slight change in his stroke, pulling more with his left hand.

Either way, he started pouring in putts from everywhere, climbing the leaderboard and getting everyone's attention.

"When everyone saw him get hot, they started to chase," Glover said. "When I looked up at the board on 12, I said, 'Man, I've gotta go if I want to be there.' I think everyone got aggressive."

Slocum pecked away on the back nine, making birdie on the tough 16th and following that with a 10-footer on the 18th. He will be in the final group, with one eye over his shoulder.

"It's so crammed at the top," Slocum said. "Calc proved today you can shoot a low number, although I didn't think anyone could shoot that low. Wow."

It figures to change slight Sunday, with tougher hole locations and the pressure of the final round.

Calcavecchia surely will feel some of that.

He is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, including a British Open, but at age 46, these chances don't come along very often.

He is not the model of fitness in golf, and his body creaks so much that he started taking pills of glucose and other herbal extracts that have helped soothe his joints. Foremost is his putting.

"The older you get, the harder it gets," he said. "Chances aren't as readily available as they used to be for me. So I'm sure I'll be nervous tomorrow just like everybody was last week, and everybody was the week before. I'll give it my best shot."

It's also a big week for Eric Larson, his caddie. Calcavecchia already told him this would be there last week for a while because he likes to give several caddies a chance to work for him.

Larson, one of the most likable loopers on tour, spent 11 years in prison after he was convicted of being the middle man in a small-time drug ring. When he got out, Calcavecchia wanted to help him with his second chance.

"I paid him fairly well for our two top 10s," he said. "That really got him out of a bind. I felt good about that. I would like to write him an extra big check. This would be a nice way to enjoy next week and give Eric a month of two off."