Heart Still Ticking for Calcavecchia

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2007 PODS ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Mark Calcavecchia was still dazed over his amazing turnaround at Innisbrook when he interrupted a PGA TOUR official who started to tick off all the things that came with his one-shot victory in the PODS Championship.
 
'A heart attack,' Calcavecchia deadpanned.
 
Given the look on his face, and the wild swing in emotion and expectations, it wasn't immediately clear if he was joking.
 
Not many players beat themselves up as badly for Calcavecchia, especially when it comes to putting. It got so bad in the opening round Thursday -- he took 36 putts and shot 75 -- that he packed his bags so he could beat the traffic out of town when he missed the cut.
 
But after trying out his sixth putter in his last six rounds (this one he bought for $256.18 at a golf store), he got back into the game with a 67, then tied the Copperhead course record with a 62 in the third round.
 
The final hole Sunday nearly did him in.
 
With a one-shot lead and a perfect tee shot, he slid off an 8-iron just enough to come up a yard shot into grass so thick his caddie had to find it for him. He chopped out to 7 feet and missed the winning par putt.
 
Moments later, Heath Slocum's 4-foot par putt to force a playoff spun around the left side of the cup. At that point, the 46-year-old Calcavecchia could only bow his head and cup his hand over the bill of his cap.
 
'I never felt like this after winning the tournament,' said Calcavecchia, who now has 13 titles in a career that spans a quarter-century. 'I'm still partially stunned at what happened. No one has ever missed a putt to let me win a tournament. Any time anybody has ever needed to make a putt against me, they usually make it. I was expecting Heath to make it.'
 
Typical of his week, nothing went according to plan.
 
Calcavecchia is one of the streakiest players in golf, which he showed in 2001 when he won the Phoenix Open at 256, which at the time was a 72-hole scoring record on the PGA TOUR. But he can't think of another time when he flipped the switch during a tournament.
 
'From where I was Thursday, maybe it's just a fairy-tale week,' Calcavecchia said. 'This stuff doesn't happen to me -- from bottom to top in three days. I know things happen in a hurry in this game, but that's a record for me. From no chance, no hope, missed cut to victory. I'm just stunned.'
 
No telling what the future holds for Calcavecchia.
 
Last year at this tournament -- that would only four months ago because of a change in the schedule -- Calcavecchia was desperate to secure his spot in the top 125 so he could be eligible for The Players Championship.
 
The victory was worth $954,000 and moved him up to No. 7 on the money list. That not only made him eligible for the World Golf Championship at Doral in two weeks, if he can stay in the top 10 through Doral, he'll be on his way to the Masters.
 
'I was planning on being somewhere else,' he said. 'Hopefully, I'll be in Augusta.'
 
A chunk of that cash goes to his caddie, Eric Larson, to whom victory probably tasted even sweeter. Larson got caught up in the middle of a small-time drug operation, sending small quantities of cocaine to friends in the Midwest. He paid a steep price for his mistake, getting shipped off to prison for 11 years.
 
Calcavecchia promised him a job when he got out last year, so this was one victory that made both feel good.
 
'He's been a great friend throughout the whole ordeal,' Larson said. 'I'm thankful and grateful for my friends who stood by me.'
 
The numbers were still numbing to Calcavecchia even as he got ready to leave Innisbrook and repack his bags.
 
His 75 was the highest opening round by a PGA TOUR winner in 10 years, dating to Jeff Sluman in Tucson in 1997. He closed with a 70 to finish at 10-under 274. While he opened with 36 putts, he used only 73 putts over the final three rounds.
 
And his paycheck took him over $20 million for his career, which was a real shocker.
 
'Hard to believe -- $3 million in debt and I've won $20 million,' he said, and the room again erupted in laughter.
 
Calcavecchia rarely fails to make people laugh, mostly at his expense. His self-deprecating humor is second to none in golf.
 
This time, he was able to laugh along.
 
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