Constellation Senior Players Championship: Calcavecchia makes a major move

Takes advantage of good scoring conditions with 64


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Mark Calcavecchia promised earlier in the week that someone would shoot 64 in the Constellation Senior Players Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club. And he was right. Little did he know he would pick the right time to do it.

On a day when more than half the players broke par and the scoring average (69.5) was the lowest in three days, Calcavecchia was one of four players to shoot 6-under 64 with a bogey-free round that vaulted him into a share of the 54-hole lead with the player who refuses to go away -- Joe Daley.

"I knew I needed to shoot a good score," Calcavecchia said. "The course was there. You could shoot a good score and make some birdies."

Calcavecchia and Daley are tied at 12-under 198, one shot ahead of Tom Lehman and an ailing Fred Couples, who is hoping to coax one more round out of his stiff, creaky back.

Two shots back is Jeff Freeman, a Champions Tour rookie who is appearing in just his fifth event since turning 50 in April. All he did while shooting 65 was hole his second shot on a fly for eagle at the 383-yard 15th.

And three shots back is Fred Funk, another player who shot 64 with an eagle-3 at No. 2 -- the 483-yard par-5 hole that has yielded seven eagles and 133 birdies in three days to rank as the easiest hole on the course.

"I'd say even if you're within five a lot of times [you're in contention]," Calcavecchia said. "You've seen a lot of guys win tournaments from four or five back. You're certainly not out of it. There are still a lot of guys in this tournament, for sure."

All Daley has done for three days is make a tournament-high 20 birdies and remain as stubborn as a farm mule. Even when he rolled his second shot no more than 80 yards from the deep rough on No. 16 -- "That was as far as I could hit it," Daley said -- he calmly got up-and-down to save par.

Among players who have won the Masters and British Opens, Daley is the anomaly. He has two Nationwide Tour victories on his resume, but has no playing status on the Champions Tour and is in the field at Fox Chapel only because he earned enough qualifying points with his fourth-place finish in the Senior PGA Championship a month ago.

Today, he will be paired in the final threesome with Calcavecchia and Couples, trying to climb from oblivion and make his first victory on the Champions Tour a major championship. Not to mention gain a spot in The Players Championship in 2013 on the PGA Tour.

"I've said this before, I'm taking it one shot at a time, just being patient in my mind, staying focused on where I'm at and what I'm doing," Daley said. "For me, that's as simple as it gets. It's not complicated for me. When I do that, I control my emotions better. I'm happier, too."

Calcavecchia has been feeling pretty good since winning last week in Montreal -- only his second victory in 34 starts since turning 50. He has made 17 birdies in three days, second most in the tournament, and just one bogey in his past 37 holes. He also leads the field in fairways hit (25 of 42).

None of the birdies was as pulsating or improbable as the 50-footer he made at the finishing hole to vault into a tie with Daley.

"I tapped it in for a 4," Calcavecchia said with a wry smile. "It always makes dinner taste a little bit better."

The player to watch, though, might be Lehman, who shot a bogey-free 66 that could have been much lower. He has hit 48 of 54 greens in regulation, tied with Funk for most in the tournament,

"I was really, really pleased with the way I played," Lehman said. "It was probably the best I've played of the three rounds so far. I didn't make as many putts as I would have liked, but I hit a lot of quality putts that looked good for a long time."

Couples has been battling a stiff back all week, but it really bothered him early in the round, especially at the par-5 second hole when Lehman, his playing partner, said Couples "almost fell to his knees" after hitting his second shot from a side-hill lie in the rough. At No. 4, Couples had a hard time taking the club back on his practice swing in the fairway because his back started to spasm. Then, he flailed an 8-iron into the right greenside bunker and made bogey.

"I feel really bad for him," Lehman said. "He struggled with his back all day. He was really in pain."

Nonetheless, despite waving at several shots and walking very tentatively, Couples managed to get around the course with little collateral damage -- at least for a while.

But the lead finally changed hands at the shortest hole on the course -- the 148-yard 14th -- when Couples decided to test his back and swing a little harder and hit his 9-iron into the right greenside bunker. When he made bogey, Daley took a one-shot lead with a 4-foot birdie.

"When I hit a shot on the second hole, I knew I was in a little trouble before I hit it and I didn't come away very good after that," Couples said. "That's when things started to get where I just wanted to hit it solid. I didn't care where they went."

But, despite his condition, Couples still managed to finish with a splash -- chasing a 3-wood from the trees on the left side of the fairway for a two-putt birdie at the 574-yard 18th.

Now the question remains: Will his back allow him to put together another 18-hole round -- something that becomes increasingly difficult in a 72-hole tournament.

"The problem is, it just feels horrible, and I'm tired of it feeling like this," Couples said.

golf

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com; twitter: @gerrydulac.


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