Calcavecchia has the mark of a champion

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

TURNBERRY, Scotland – There is a naughty little tale that has become part of British Open folklore – and spares Mark Calcavecchia no favor.

Back in 1990, as the rumor goes, Calcavecchia, the defending champion, turned up late and clad in jeans for an official Open dinner because he had been busy sipping champagne from the claret jug with a bunch of friends.

The story has been spun and embellished over the past two decades and is only partly accurate. The American, a stickler for time-keeping, was late because his transportation did not arrive and was actually wearing regular pants. As for the champagne? Well …

Calcavecchia had another important appointment on his agenda on Friday, one he had to put back by an hour or so. His ritual consumption of four pints (no more, no less) of a local brew called St. Mungo was delayed – and with a dinner booking with old friends to be met, the pace of drinking had to be stepped up.

But at least there was a valid excuse.

Calcavecchia's wonderfully crafted round of 69 on Day 2 at Turnberry put the 49-year-old within a stroke of the lead and meant there was plenty of attention heaped upon him.

With Calcavecchia 20 years on from the only major victory of his career, sealed on a sensational final day at Troon, the golfing media were demanding to know if he could turn back the clock and win this grand old tournament again.

Such lines of questioning have not figured regularly for Calcavecchia in recent times. He hasn't finished in the top 10 of a major since the 2002 PGA Championship and is ranked a lowly 212th in the world. Busy media conferences with him as the center of attention are far from normal these days.

But this is not a regular week for Calcavecchia.

Success on the PGA Tour has become increasingly rare as he has slipped out of the spotlight, but at the British Open he will always have the aura associated with a past champion. It is a happy coincidence that his tipple of choice this week is St. Mungo, a beer named after the patron saint of Glasgow.

Just as the religious man dispensed free doses of "liquid bread" to the impoverished back in the sixth century, Calcavecchia has attracted an alcohol-fueled following of his own among younger American players this week.

Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar and Boo Weekley have all been drawn to the Calcavecchia storytelling club, where the beers and humor flow in equal measure.

"He is a great guy to be around and learn from," Glover said. "This tournament is very special, and to be able to talk to a guy who won it all really enhances the experience.

"A few of us have sat around in the pub and just talked about different stuff. It is a great atmosphere and Calc is at the heart of it all."

Calcavecchia shuns the concept of him as a mentor – "I would never think I'm the kind of guy anyone can learn from" – despite the fact that several emerging players have sought his advice on successful links golf. For him, the social setting is all about comfort and relaxation and a diversion from the crippling back pain that has made the latter part of his career a constant grind.

Yet there is plenty that could be learned from his second round, one of clever thinking and superb control. Amid testing conditions that caused playing partner Michael Campbell to stomp off the course after 12 holes and Tiger Woods to miss the cut, Calcavecchia was rock solid.

Calcavecchia has finished second 27 times in his career – a figure he considers far too high, estimating he threw away around 10 potential victories. From Friday he drew a sense he will win again, whether this week or later in the year or on the Champions Tour in future years.

Logic would suggest a major here is impossible. But Tom Watson's miraculous surge, the rise of unheralded Steve Marino and Woods' disaster prove this year's event has little place for common sense.

"This is about the second time this year that I didn't struggle to make the cut, so I am just happy with that," he said. "I think I can win – if not this week, maybe somewhere later down the road.

"I am usually choking so bad coming down the last few holes on Friday because I want to play the weekend. This is a nice change."

A calm and measured front nine of 36 and an outstanding inward of 33 made sure that not only will Calcavecchia be playing the weekend, he will be doing so among the marquee groups as well.

Some things will need to go his way – his back must behave, his nerve must hold and the conditions must favor him.

As he sat in the interview room of the media center, the plastic tarpaulin flapped wildly behind him.

"Is that the wind and rain?" he said with a cheeky smile. "Interesting."

Still, there was no time to reflect on such matters, with wife/caddy Brenda to meet and a dinner appointment to stick to. And four pints of St. Mungo's to savor after a day in which he most certainly earned them.

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