BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Mark Calcavecchia well remembers the last time he opened a weekend contending for a major championship.
This time, he’s hoping for a better ending.
Calcavecchia opened a three-stroke lead Friday in the Regions Tradition, shooting a 7-under 65 to run his bogey-free streak to 35 holes at Shoal Creek.
Calcavecchia, with wife Brenda working as his caddie, was second in the British Open last year after 36 holes, but dropped to 73rd with closing rounds of 77 and 80.
“I didn’t handle that too good,” said Calcavecchia, the 1989 British Open winner. “That was a just a tad bigger tournament than this one.”
Calcavecchia birdied Nos. 10-12 to pull ahead and added another birdie on the par-5 17th to reach 11 under. He had a chance to get to 12 under, but missed a birdie putt by a few inches on No. 18
The 13-time PGA Tour winner, seeking his first Champions Tour victory in the 50-and-over circuit’s first major of the year, hasn’t made a bogey since opening the tournament with a double on the first hole.
Now, Calcavecchia will be the one everyone’s chasing.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous,” he said. “You want to get off to a good start. That’s where you want to be. You don’t want to be sneaking up on anybody from six shots behind, although that’s happened before, too. But it’s always nice to be out in front.”
Kenny Perry was second, matching Calcavecchia with a 65.
Jay Haas – whose son, Bill, is contending in the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Championship – and Michael Allen were tied for third at 7 under. Haas had a 68, and Allen shot a 67.
First-round leader Tom Lehman (71) and Tom Pernice Jr. (66) were 6 under.
Perry, who asked swing coach Ron Green to come up from Mobile on Wednesday, actually had to get over jitters from the second straight day with big names Nick Price and Tom Watson.
Birdies on two of the first three holes helped.
“That seemed to kind of take the edge off me a little bit,” Perry said. “I always looked up to Tom Watson. I was nervous (Thursday) playing with Tom Watson, even though I’ve played a lot of golf with him. (He) and Nick Price are just great men, guys I’ve looked up to and I was actually a little tight (Thursday). When I birdied 1 and 3, it really loosened me up right out of the gate and I was able to just continue on.”
Perry was 4 under over the final nine. He hit a 5-iron to 20 feet of the hole on No. 17, then eagled the hole to take sole possession of second.
“I need a lot more rounds like that,” Perry said.
But his biggest shot might have come two holes earlier when he hit a driver through the fairway and into the woods.
“My only shot was to hit a sand wedge to the left front and then I made about a 50-footer for birdie,” he said. “It’s a putt you don’t even think about making much less two-putting, and it went right in the middle, so you know it’s kind of your day.”
Lehman had two bogeys after a bogey-free first round.
Pernice had four birdies in the final nine holes after entering the day at even par.
This is Pernice’s first Champions Tour major.
“I was a little gun-shy (Thursday), had a lot of mud on the ball” from Wednesday’s rains, Pernice said. “Fairways are starting to firm up, so a little more of a green light, and I felt better with my swing as well.”
Calcavecchia, meanwhile, said he isn’t feeling overly confident with two rounds left.
“If there was only one more round to go, I might feel my chances are a lot better than they are,” he said. “I’m not looking at the big picture yet. We’re only halfway done. I’ve got to keep making birdies.”