WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Mark Brooks knows what it’s like to be in the hunt for a championship on the final day. It’s just been awhile since that’s happened.
“I think the hard part of not being right in the hunt is you’re not as familiar with your tendencies at the time,” Brooks said. “That’s what you get from playing all the time. You know, I need to fight off this hook or fight off that cut. You know that a lot better when you’re playing 30 tournaments a year.”
This is just the sixth Champions Tour event for Brooks, who turned 50 in March, and he’s within reach of his first victory since the 1996 PGA Championship. He survived a shaky finish, salvaging a bogey on 18 after twice hitting into bunkers, and finished 36 holes at 10-under 132.
Calcavecchia, playing in the same group as Brooks, closed with three straight pars after an eagle on 15 to wind up with a 66, putting him 9 under. Peter Senior (67) and 2002 winner Bob Gilder (66) were 8 under.
“It’s fun,” Brooks said, savoring his spot atop the leaderboard. “There are good galleries here, it’s a great tournament. It feels like a real tournament.”
The weather calmed after Friday’s breezy conditions and Glen Oaks yielded far lower scores as a result, including a 64 by Jay Don Blake that was one off the tournament record. It was the day’s best score and left Blake 6 under heading into Sunday.
There were 58 subpar scores Saturday after just 23 in the first round.
Brooks, who lost to Retief Goosen in a playoff at the 2001 U.S. Open, was in danger of losing the lead when he hit out of one fairway bunker and landed in another on 18. His next shot, to the back of the green, left him with a 45-foot putt for par and he got close enough for little more than a tap-in for bogey.
Calcavecchia had a chance to tie for the lead, but rammed his birdie putt on 18 past the hole before nailing his comebacker.
Brooks thought he, Calcavecchia and Senior, who also played in the final group, left a lot of makeable putts on the greens.
“Our whole group could have shot lower today,” Brooks said. “There weren’t a whole lot of putts being made. Our whole group could have shot better scores with good putting.”
Brooks just missed a hole-in-one on No. 5, the ball skidding inches right of the cup. His 5-footer for birdie spun out and he had to settle for par. He came back with a birdie on 8 and an eagle on No. 9 after a nice 7-iron from 195 yards, but Calcavecchia kept plugging away and staying with him.
Even on the day through six holes, Calcavecchia birdied four of the next seven, then offset a bogey on 14 by sticking a 5-iron to 15 feet on No. 15 and sinking the putt for an eagle. He was kicking himself after missing a 3-footer for birdie on 17, but settled down to finish with his par on 18 after overshooting his birdie putt.
“I was glad I made that one after yanking that three-footer on the hole before,” Calcavecchia said.
Gilder, playing in the 178th straight tournament for which he was eligible, had five birdies in a bogey-free round. His streak will end with this tournament because he leaves Monday for a two-week trip to Europe and will miss the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn starting June 10.
Dana Quigley’s record streak of 278 is out of reach, Gilder said.
“There aren’t enough tournaments,” he said. “I’d have to play until I was 80.”
Still, he’ll head off on vacation feeling better about his game than he has for a while.
“It’s been a tough year,” said Gilder, whose best finish has been a tie for 56th. “But some of things I’ve been working on are starting to pay off now. I’m very happy with (the round), very happy.”
Senior stayed close to the lead with six birdies in the first 11 holes. After a bogey on 12, he finished with six pars.
Blake knocked in a sand wedge from 40 yards for an eagle on 11 and was on track to at least match the tournament record after a birdie on 15 dropped him to 8 under for the day. But he ran into trouble on 17 when his tee shot sailed into the long grass right of the fairway, though he almost salvaged par when his chip stopped on the lip of the cup.
“I was lucky to make bogey on that hole,” Blake said.
He almost got it back on 18, but his birdie putt from 18 feet curled around the left side of the hole.
Fleisher, playing in the same group as Blake, seemed headed for a sensational round when he birdied seven of the first 10 holes. But he cooled off, bogeyed 17 and finished 6 under for the day.
“He was making birdies on every hole,” Blake said. “I made an eagle and I still wasn’t even with him. So I was just trying to keep up with Bruce. We both played pretty well out there and kind of fed off each other.”
Calcavecchia joined the senior circuit last year and is still looking for his first victory after winning 13 times on the PGA Tour. He said Brooks has to be the favorite to finish the deal on Sunday.
“It’s a perfect course for him,” Calcavecchia said. “He’ll be tough to beat.”