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Mark Calcavecchia British Open Open Championship
Mark Calcavecchia and his caddie/wife Brenda made a good team Thursday in the first round of the 138h Open Championship. (Photo: Getty Images)

Despite balky back, Calcavecchia opens with promising 67

His back aching and his confidence not what you would call high, Mark Calcavecchia took advantage of perfect scoring conditions Thursday to card an encouraging 3-under 67 at Turnberry.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- The thought crossed his mind.

Mark Calcavecchia's 49-year-old back was being cranky again on Sunday as he played the 36-hole finale to the John Deere Classic. And if it ached that badly, did he really want to fly nine hours to play in the 138th Open Championship?

The answer was resounding yes. The remedy? Nothing a few over-the-counter painkillers and a couple of beers couldn't fix.

"The next thing you know we were landing," Calcavecchia said. "I felt pretty good on Monday."

The Open has always been Calcavecchia's favorite tournament. And judging from the way he played during the first round at Turnberry on Thursday, the American made the right choice in getting on that trans-Atlantic flight.

Calcavecchia, who was in the lead-off group at 6:30 a.m. local time, made four birdies and just one bogey to finish with a 3-under 67 that left him among the first-round leaders. He only found the hay once and flirted with a single bunker in that solid performance.

"The weather was perfect. It still is," Calcavecchia said. "There's no wind. The early doesn't bother me; I get up early no matter where I'm at or what country I'm in. I was ready to go at 5 o'clock.
"I played well. I hate to say Turnberry was easy, because it's a really hard course, but if you're going to shoot a good score out there, today was the day to do it or is the day to do it. So great start, for sure. I'm happy with it."

Calcavecchia, who won the Open at Royal Troon in 1989, is one of three somewhat long-in-the-tooth former champions in the mix on Thursday. Tom Watson, the 59-year-old who won the Open at Turnberry in 1977, owned the early clubhouse lead at 5 under, while Mark O'Meara, now 52 and the 1998 champ, matched Calc's 67.

"I don't think the course has anything to do with the fact that some of us old guys are playing well today," Calcavecchia said. "Tom Watson can obviously still play really well. And I had my moments. I'll be the first to admit I'm not as good as I used to be."

But Calcavecchia, who has won 13 PGA TOUR events -- including three since hitting the big 4-0 -- was in his prime back in 1989 when he beat Ernie Els and Wayne Grady in the Open's first aggregate playoff. He loves coming back to the UK and he plans to play in the championship until he's 60, the age at which former champs are no longer invited as competitors.

"It's just the atmosphere, the fans, the crowd, the stands (and) for lack of a better word, the unusual accommodations you end up with sometimes," Calcavecchia said. "I wouldn't want a steady diet of it, just like links golf. But it's fun. The beer is very tasty. All kinds of reasons."

Here's another -- the camaraderie. Earlier in the week, Calcavecchia found himself sitting in the Duel in the Sun Pub with a dozen or so other players, all having a few adult beverages and woofing down some bar food.

"You never see guys in the States," Calcavecchia said. "It's like if you do, it's by pure accident. So everybody sits around and yuks it up, and it's almost like I've become better friends with Lucas Glover and Boo Weekley and Matt Kuchar in the last three days ... than at home.

"So just a lot of different fun things about this week."

And what's one thing that would make this particular visit to Turnberry especially memorable? How about a win by Calcavecchia? He's not thinking that far ahead, though.

"My thoughts of winning have pretty much gone out the window as time goes by," acknowledged Calcavecchia, who turned 49 in June.

It's not that he doesn't believe in himself. Calcavecchia is just taking a wait and see approach to this week.

"I'll let you know in three days or two and a half days," he said. "I could (win). I could. It's highly unlikely, but when I'm here next year and the year after and the year after in my 50s ... I mean, does Mark O'Meara think he can win this tournament or does Tom Watson think he can win? I don't know, maybe they do. They're possibly mentally stronger than I am. But I certainly don't think about it on a Monday through Friday or Saturday.
"If I'm leading after Saturday, then, okay, you know. Evidently Greg Norman thought he could win last year, and he probably should have, as it turned out. But anything is possible."

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