Calcavecchia Not Ready to Pack It In

Friday, October 27th 2006, 6:30 am
By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ Mark Calcavecchia only has to look at the money list to determine what kind of year he has had. ``Just bad, you know?'' he said Thursday.

He would seem to have no worries despite a dour season that has put him at No. 128 on the money list. Calcavecchia won the Canadian Open last year, so his PGA Tour card is secure for 2007 when the season gets an overhaul with the FedExCup.

But that isn't good enough.

With only his pride and a spot in The Players Championship riding on his performance in the Chrysler Championship, the 46-year-old Calcavecchia continued his resurgence Thursday with six birdies on his way to a 66, leaving him two shots behind Brian Gay.

``My back was bad most of the year,'' he said. ``My putting (stunk). I pretty much mastered the tie for 68th this year. I can tell you exactly what it pays _ it doesn't add up in a hurry. Just grinding as hard as I know on Thursday and Friday to make cuts (21 of 26), and running out of gas on the weekend was pretty much the whole story of my year.''

But with that assessment came a glimmer of hope.

He tied for ninth last week at Disney. He even played well at Innisbrook during the pro-am. And then came a 66.

``Three more good rounds here,'' he said. ``I'm playing well. I have some confidence. I know how to win a tournament, so you never know.''

Indeed, everything is up in the air at the Chrysler Championship.

This is the final full-field tournament of the year, the one event where most of the talk is on money. Some guys are trying to finish in the top 30 on the money list to get into the Tour Championship. Others will take top 40 and head to the Masters next year. The most critical number is the top 125 to sew up full status for 2007, and some would even settle for the top 150 to have at least conditional status.

And then there's Gay.

He was one of the few guys with no worries _ too far down the money list to think about the Tour Championship, too high to get nervous about losing his card. He's not on the bubble, and wound up in a far better place after the first round, atop the leaderboard.

``I just want to finish the year on a good note,'' Gay said.

Gay, 34, is interested only in his first PGA Tour victory. He got off to a tremendous start on the Copperhead Course, one of the toughest tests in Florida with greens that Ernie Els said were as fast as any he has played all year on the PGA Tour.

Gay had little problem with his putting, making three of his birdies from at least 20 feet. None was more memorable than the 13th, where the putt crawled up to the edge of the hole and stopped for about three seconds before taking one last turn.

It didn't stay on the lip long enough for memories of the 2000 Honda Classic to come rushing back.

Gay was in the final group that year on the TPC at Heron Bay, one shot out of the lead, when he hit a putt from just on the fringe at the 17th hole that stopped on the edge. His playing partner told him it might go in, so Gay stayed away from the cup until it fell. But the view from the blimp showed that it took 13 seconds to fall _ 10 seconds is the limit _ so he had to take par and wound up two shots behind.

``This one was uphill and into the grain,'' Gay said. ``I knew it was on line, and Richard Johnson told me it was going to fall. I wasn't standing to the side, but a few seconds later it went in.''

For so many others, nerves were frayed with every birdie and bogey, depending on their spot on the money list.

Duffy Waldorf, who is No. 130 on money list and needed a sponsor's exemption to get into the tournament, recovered quickly from a bogey on his opening hole to shoot 67, along with Daniel Chopra, Heath Slocum and former PGA champion Steve Elkington.

The group at 68 included Jeff Brehaut, who is playing his 10th consecutive tournament in hopes of keeping his card. He birdied both par 5s, bogeyed both par 3s, then settled down and wound up with the start he wanted. If he doesn't finish in the top 125, the 43-year-old will be back in Q-school for the sixth time.

He's been in this position enough to know why there was a small crowd of reporters around him when he finished.

``Here we go with the ``bubble boy'' questions,'' he said with a smile. ``I've done it too many times. It is what it is. I've been working my butt off, and I'm happy to get off to a good start.''

Els wasn't perfect, but he had few complaints. He is trying to hold down the 30th spot on the money list to get into the Tour Championship next week _ he has never missed the tour's All-Star game when healthy _ and overcame a few mistakes to shoot 69.

Also at 69 was two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, who is at No. 147 and was desperate for a good week. He found his solution not on the range but in the Bible, finding 20 passages on peace and trying to put them to good use.

``I'm caring a lot less about it,'' he said of the money list. ``Guys on top of their game arrive here and if they have a bad hole, it doesn't throw them off. My main focus is to not worry about the results.''

The bubble already burst for a couple of guys who didn't even hit a shot.

Bubba Dickerson is at No. 125 on the money list _ the cutoff for having full status in 2007 _ but he was the third alternate into the Chrysler Championship and waited more than six hours to see if three players pulled out. Everyone started the first round, and Dickerson had no choice but to leave Innisbrook. His next tournament probably will be Q-school.