On the very surface where he had swept a drop-dead beauteous tournament-tying putt across 50 feet of a Fox Chapel Golf Club green a day earlier, Mark Calcavecchia had the honor of taking the final two shots of the Constellation Senior Players Championship.
Neither meant a thing.
Joe Daley's winning birdie putt had been extracted from the cup a minute earlier, and, in a Sunday golf narrative that has grown way too familiar for this former British Open winner on the Champions Tour, Calcavecchia took a 54-hole lead or at least a tie for it and turned that into a serious disappointment.
This one gave him the Triple Frown.
He led the Tradition a year ago by a stroke to start Sunday and shot a desultory 75 to wind up tied for fifth, and he was the Senior British Open's third-round co-leader a year ago as well, finishing second to Russ Cochran.
"These guys are Hall of Famers," said Joe Daley, who seemed as surprised as anybody that he had held off final threesome mates Calcavecchia and Fred Couples, not to mention Tom Lehman and fast-closing Olin Browne to win by two strokes. "Freddy is laid back, and Calc is laid back, too, but he always wants to go for birdies. It was fun. Those guys are gentleman, and I very much enjoyed being with them."
He should have enjoyed it.
Calcavecchia, Couples and Lehman had 33 PGA Tour victories and 15 Champions Tour wins among them. Daley had never finished higher than fourth on the Champions Tour.
"It might take me a few minutes to add up all my putts," said Calcavecchia a week after winning in Montreal. "I'm going to go with 35 [actually 34]. I know I had 19 on the front; it just wasn't my day. It was Joe's day, and that's fine. My speed was bad. It was just bad."
No one expected Couples to prevent the primary prize on this tour from falling to a guy who didn't even have exempt status until about 5:15 p.m. Sunday, because every time Couples crouched over a putt Sunday, you wondered if he would be able to stand up again. His back has been killing him, but his back didn't finish that task until Couples bogeyed Nos. 15 and 16.
Lehman rattled home a long putt on 17 that pulled him within a stroke of Daley, but Daley's nerveless birdie on 18 took care of that and everything else.
Calcavecchia's exit technically began near the turn, when he lined his tee shot into the right bunker and studied it long enough to have read Crime and Punishment. He eventually blasted free, but that critical shot did not bite on the ninth green, instead rolling onto its rear shelf 35 feet away.
He babied it downhill, curving it left to within 3 feet, but the par he saved couldn't much help him because Daley converted a 9-footer for birdie. When Daley birdied 10 as well and Calcavecchia bogeyed 11, his third of five on an afternoon as forgettable as it was steamy, Calcavecchia was headed for his fifth top-five Champions Tour finish, but still with no victory to add to his 13 PGA wins.
"Most of the front nine was bad for me," Calcavecchia said. "I three-putted [No.] 2 for par and got absolutely robbed on 3 and 4 and, you know, that's three shots right there. So, it could have been a different story right off the bat."
On his way to a 72 after posting three sub-70s for the tournament, one progressively better than the next, Calcavecchia's final hope was a Daley collapse down the stretch. Calcavecchia's final birdie, on 15, brought him back within two, but Daley's final invitation to cough this championship away came two holes later when he drove his tee shot into the front left bunker at 17. He bogeyed, but didn't buckle.
Calcavecchia's shot held the green, but 50 feet beneath the hole.
"The greens got really dried out, kind of U.S. Open-looking," he said. "Some greens were hard and some green's weren't so hard, and you really didn't know which was which. And there on 17, it was slow for the long putt I had, and then 18 was fast."
Didn't much matter; he three-putted both of 'em.
So on a day when Fox Chapel might have been the locale of Calcavecchia's first Champions victory, could have been another jewel on the decorous records of Couples or Lehman, the major championship went to a guy who wouldn't have been in the vicinity had he not finished fourth at the Senior PGA Championship a month ago.
"You know, he had a three-shot lead most of the back nine; he deserves it," said Calcavecchia of Daley. "He's been at this a long time, and this is a huge win for him."
Funny, though, how so often those big wins come strapped to someone else's big loss.
Gene Collier: email@example.com. First Published July 2, 2012 12:00 AM