At last week's Honda Classic, the unexpected became routine.
There was Colin Montgomerie on Sunday, in the thick of
contention, standing on the 11th tee holding the head of his
putter, which had just slipped off the shaft. There was John
Daly, known as Wild Thing in his drinking days, methodically
chugging to a tie for fourth as he neared the one-year
anniversary of his sobriety. There was Mark Brooks slapping
himself with four penalty strokes only two holes into the
tournament when he noticed a 15th club--one over the legal
limit--in his bag. And there were the fierce March winds of
South Florida, which on at least two previous occasions had
rearranged the tournament's grandstands, blowing town on the
weekend to create conditions so eerily placid that you couldn't
have flown a kite without a tow truck.
There was one other oddity worth mentioning. Mark Calcavecchia
won the Honda by capping an 18-under-par 270 with a flawless 65
to clip Vijay Singh by three strokes and Montgomerie by five.
What seems slightly strange about this result is that
Calcavecchia, who has now won nine Tour events, is generally
viewed as a journeyman, while Montgomerie, who has never won in
the U.S., is seen as royalty.
Of course, this perception is rooted in recent history. Even
though he has come up empty in the U.S., Montgomerie, 34, has
topped the European tour money list for the last five years and
has come excruciatingly close in a handful of major
championships. The 37-year-old Calcavecchia, on the other hand,
seemed to peak in the late '80s and hasn't really had a sniff in
a major since the one he won--the 1989 British Open--in a
dramatic playoff over Wayne Grady and Greg Norman. "I can't say
I'm bummed because I haven't won another major," Calcavecchia
says. "I've always had all the tools. My wife used to say, 'I
don't understand. You can be the best.' Well, I didn't want to
stand out there and practice hard enough to be the best. I
could've should've won more. I could've should've practiced
more. It's too late to change that."
It may not be too late, though, to change the perception.
Calcavecchia roared away with the Honda by birdieing five of the
final seven holes at the TPC at Heron Bay outside Fort
Lauderdale. The win was a reminder that while Calcavecchia has
at times been an underachiever, he has been on a roll lately,
having now won three times in seven months. The first victory
came last August in Vancouver in a low-profile second-year event
held opposite the winners-only NEC World Series of Golf. The
second was in November in the unofficial Sarazen World Open.
March 23, 1998
In fact, Calcavecchia has played consistent golf for most of the
'90s despite off-and-on success with the putter. In the last 10
years his 17 runner-up finishes are second only to Norman's 21.
"That's a lot of chances to win tournaments and not do it,"
Calcavecchia admits. The second-place finish that hurt the most
came in the 1990 Greater Hartford Open. Calcavecchia handed the
tournament to Wayne Levi when, with a two-shot lead, he thinned
a six-iron shot into the lake at the 71st hole and then
three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd. "That one I'll always
remember," Calcavecchia says. "That one pissed me off."
Some will also remember two other moments in Calcavecchia's
career, one positive, one negative, but both linked to
Montgomerie. Calcavecchia won the '89 British on the strength of
a heroic five-iron shot on the final hole of the first four-hole
playoff in the history of the majors. The venue was Royal Troon,
where Montgomerie's father, James, who walked the fairways with
his son last week, was club secretary.
Hartford aside, the low point of Calcavecchia's career came on
the final day of the '91 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, where he
had--guess who?--dormie with four holes to play, only to lose
every hole coming home. Calcavecchia says he has never discussed
the match with Monty, although the two did have lunch last year
when the British Open returned to Royal Troon. "I like the guy,"
Calcavecchia says. "Actually I think he's funny as hell."
The only thing that wasn't so funny, Calcavecchia says, was when
he heard Montgomerie, on TV, discussing his decisive singles
match against Scott Hoch in last year's Ryder Cup. "He said, 'It
made me think of the Calcavecchia match,'" Calcavecchia says,
affecting a Scottish accent. "Gee, thanks."
Perhaps Calcavecchia should be given more credit for the mark he
has made in golf. Money isn't the best measuring stick, but he
has won more than $8 million in his 18 seasons on Tour, which
puts him 11th in career earnings. More important, he's a
prototype for the aggressive player, the extreme golfer who hits
driver when others lay up, shoots at every pin and tries to hole
every putt. That style of play, also employed by David Duval,
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, among others, is coming into
vogue on Tour in the late '90s. Back in the '80s Calcavecchia
and friend Ken Green were the poster boys for grip-it-and-rip-it
golf. "Mike Hulbert nicknamed us Fly One and Fly Two for just
that: Let it fly," Calcavecchia says.
A carefree sort, Calcavecchia wasn't always taken seriously back
then. In fact, even though he has been married to Sheryl for 10
years and they have two children, eight-year-old Britney and
Eric, 4, he's still a bit of a free spirit. Last week he
relished the 40-minute drive to the course from his house in
West Palm Beach because it gave him the opportunity to crank up
the volume in the killer stereo in his Porsche and get into the
proper frame of mind. Sunday's playlist featured the Gin
Blossoms. Earlier that morning Calcavecchia was cutting some
loose threads off his pants when he accidentally snipped through
the skin on his left index finger. No problem. He patched
himself up by applying Super Glue and a bandage.
Did we mention his lucky coins? In the middle of the final round
Calcavecchia decided that the quarter and nickel in his pocket
weren't getting the job done, so he traded them for the three
pennies jingling in the pocket of his caddie, Greg (the Piddler)
Martin. Did we mention that Calcavecchia then reeled off three
straight birdies? "It's silly, but what the heck," he says.
"Maybe it was the pennies."
Meanwhile, Montgomerie had nothing but bad luck, especially on
the greens. Monty, who missed the cut at Doral the week
before--his first miss anywhere since last August--played well
but failed to convert numerous birdie opportunities. After
Saturday's round the Scot's scowl was as dark and ominous as the
threatening sky. "I can't hole a putt. This is my ninth round
this year and my ninth pathetic putting round. I don't know what
to do now," he said glumly.
Monty's closing 66 had that bizarre touch when the head of his
putter, the third model he had used in as many days, came loose.
The rules allow a player to replace a club damaged through
normal wear, so Montgomerie's caddie went to get a replacement.
The caddie returned when Monty was on the 12th fairway, moments
after he had made a birdie putt at 11 with the damaged club. "I
holed some putts coming in, so that was encouraging,"
Montgomerie said. "I played well enough to score 66 the first
three days but didn't make enough putts. It's not the
instrument, unfortunately, it's me."
The Masters is still three weeks away, so Monty has time to get
things straightened out. Hey, stranger things have happened.
"I didn't want to stand out there and practice hard enough to be
the best," says Calcavecchia.
"I don't know what to do now," Monty said glumly after another
poor putting round.