WALTON ON THE HILL, England – Mark Calcavecchia and Lee Rinker headed an American charge in the second round of the Senior British Open on Friday as Germany’s Bernhard Langer faded badly in the defense of his title.
Calcavecchia – one of three overnight leaders – made six birdies in his 3-under 69 before being joined on 7 under by Rinker and Canada’s Rod Spittle, whose afternoon 67s were the joint second-lowest rounds of the week at Walton Heath.
In-form Australian Peter Fowler was two shots back after a 68, with American pair John Cook (67) and Mike Goodes (70) together at 4 under.
With players from the United States filling six of the top nine places – as well as 20 of the leading 31 – and three-time winner Tom Watson also getting back in contention with a bogey-free 68 for 1 under, the likelihood of an eighth American winner in nine years was growing.
Langer isn’t expected to be challenging Sunday, though, after a 4-over 76 left him nine shots off the pace.
Calcavecchia and Rinker, who will be the last pairing to go out in the third round, live near each other in Jupiter, South Florida and are also childhood friends, playing junior golf from the age of 12.
Their careers have taken different paths since then, however.
While the 50-year-old Rinker is unknown outside the U.S. and without a career victory to his name, Calcavecchia is best known for winning the British Open at Troon in 1989 and has 12 more victories on the PGA tour.
Calcavecchia is bidding to become the fourth player – after Watson, Gary Player and Bob Charles – to achieve the British Open double and has a great chance if he maintains his form off the tee this week.
“That would be awesome company to keep. They’re three Hall of Famers. That would be really special,” said Calcavecchia, who led by three shots after 36 holes of the first Champions Tour major of the year – the Regions Tradition at Shoal Creek in May.
After grabbing birdies at Nos. 1 and 2, morale-boosting up-and-downs for par on Nos. 11 and 13 kept up the momentum. Although he bogeyed No. 16, his third dropped shot of the round, he picked up another birdie at the last to sign for a second straight round in the 60s.
“I played well for the most part – not too many crooked drives, I’m putting pretty good, not too many mistakes. So far so good,” the 51-year-old Calcavecchia, who has six top-10 finishes in 12 events on this season’s Champions Tour.
Rinker, in his first season on the Champions Tour, only sealed his spot at Walton Heath with a top-10 finish at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open at Endicott, New York last month.
He is certainly making the most of his first tournament in England, hitting five birdies in a blemish-free round in the mid-afternoon sunshine on the parkland course just south of London.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this position,” said Rinker, whose best displays on the regular tour were two second places in 1997. “But my game’s been coming along this year. We’ll see how I hold up.”
Spittle joined the American pair at the top of the leaderboard toward the end of the second round, finishing with six birdies from the last 10 holes on a closing stretch that has troubled many of the field because of the length of the par 4s.
“To say I have played well is an understatement,” said Spittle, winner of the AT&T Championship in 2010 by beating Jeff Sluman in a one-hole playoff.
It was the first time since 2004 that at least three players have held a share of the lead after 36 holes of a Senior British Open.
Fowler, a two-time winner on the Senior European Tour this season, is handily place on 5 under after a 68 – aided by the holing of a pitch for birdie on No. 16 – while Cook followed Rinker and Spittle in shooting a flawless round of 5 under.
That score was only beaten on Friday by England’s Kevin Spurgeon, whose 66 contained eight birdies.
Goodes would have been closer to the lead trio if he hadn’t double-bogeyed the par-4 No. 10.
Other Americans in with a good chance heading into the weekend were Bob Tway (70) and 2010 runner-up Corey Pavin (72), who were tied on 3 under with England’s Barry Lane (70).
The vast contingent on 1 under, alongside Watson, included Mark O’Meara and Tom Lehman (both 72).
Australia’s Mike Harwood and Zimbabwean-born Mark McNulty shared the overnight lead with Calcavecchia but carded 74 and 76 respectively to drop back.
Langer also had a poor round, a double-bogey on the par-4 No. 4 adding to three other dropped shots.
The two-time Masters champion was at least one of 76 players to make the cut, which came at 4 over. Two of those are amateurs – American pair Paul Simson (2 over) and Randy Haag (3 over).