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Pain-free, Calcavecchia opens Boca Championship with 8-under for lead

Posting only 10 top-25 finishes in 61 events over the past three years on the PGA Tour Champions had Tequesta’s Mark Calcavecchia thinking the unthinkable. Could the former British Open champion walk away from the game for good at age 57? If pain was going to be his constant companion, then the answer was yes.

A surgical procedure on his back — known as a rhizotomy — that he underwent in December changed everything, and Calcavecchia came out firing Friday in the first round of the Boca Raton Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound. He shot an 8-under 64 to take a one-shot lead over Rocco Mediate and Jeff Maggert.

“I’m not in excruciating pain for the first time in five years,” Calcavecchia said.

A long-time Palm Beach County resident and a University of Florida graduate, Calcavecchia won 13 times on the PGA Tour and twice in his first two years (2011 and ’12) on the Champions Tour. But back issues have made him mostly an afterthought since.

“I talked to my wife (Brenda) and she’s like ‘How much longer do you want to do this?’ I said if I keep finishing 60th every week and 66th on the money list, not much longer. You look at Bernhard (Langer) and the way some of these guys are playing into their late 50s, I’ve got to do a Senior Tour 2.0, second chapter, otherwise I’m done.”

Fellow competitor Jay Haas had gone undergone a rhizotomy — a procedure to sever nerve roots in the spinal cord — and emerged pain-free, so one day in mid-December Calcavecchia hopped in his car, drove to Naples, had it done and drove back. A month later back-to-back rounds of 67 had him tied for fifth at the season-opening event in Hawaii before a final-round 80 dropped him to 36th.

“Pain crept in, I had some issues in the last round and just fell apart,” he said. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again, but at least it’s moving in the right direction.

“You can’t compete out here in pain. You can’t practice, you can’t do anything. I’m able to play and practice and that feels really good.”

His start Friday couldn’t have been much better, with birdies in five of his first seven holes and seven of his first 10. Another bird at the short par-4 No. 7 — he started on the back nine — put him clear of the field and he would have been two up if not seeing a 5-footer lip out at No. 8.

“Played real good,” he said. “I could have hit a few more fairways, but some of these fairways aren’t easy to hit, so a really good day.”

Maggert and Mediate played in the same threesome Friday and will join Calcavecchia as the final group off the tee at 12:50 Saturday. Mediate, who won this event in 2013, held a share of the lead until his inability to get up-and-down out of a bunker produced his only bogey on his final hole, No. 9.

“It’s always good because you always have good feelings here,” Mediate said. “I like this part of the country anyway, I’ve always liked being here, so it’s awesome. Lots of friends, good stuff. The golf course is perfect.”

Mediate posted an eagle-2 on the par-4 seventh hole after driving the green and rolling in a 30-foot putt.

“One of those ones you’re trying to two-putt and, oops!,” he said. “Accidental, totally.”

Maggert birdied four of his first five holes and didn’t post a bogey in going 31-34-65.

Three Palm Beach County residents — Boca Raton’s Bernhard Langer and Jupiter’s Fred Funk and Jesper Parnevik — were two shots back at 66 while crowd favorite John Daly, Michael Allen and Steve Flesch were another shot back at 67. Allen won here in 2014.

Scott Parel, who won a pro/celebrity event last month in Orlando, recorded a hole-in-one on the 169-yard eighth hole with a 7-iron.


Today’s second-round tee times

No. 1 Tee

10:50 a.m.: Joe Durant, Tom Pernice Jr., Lance Ten Broeck,

11:00 a.m.: Bart Bryant, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Janzen

11:10 a.m.: Todd Hamilton, Scott Parel, Michael Bradley

11:20 a.m.: Brandt Jobe, Fran Quinn, Billy Mayfair

11:30 a.m.: Sandy Lyle, Paul Broadhurst, Marco Dawson

11:40 a.m.: Corey Pavin, Tom Byrum, David Toms

11:50 a.m.: Glen Day, Mark Brooks, Scott Dunlap

12:00 p.m. Kevin Sutherland, Gene Sauers, Carlos Franco

12:10 p.m. Duffy Waldorf, Kent Jones, Russ Cochran

12:20 p.m. Kirk Triplett, Jerry Smith, Paul Goydos

12:30 p.m. Steve Flesch, Michael Allen, John Daly

12:40 p.m. Fred Funk, Bernhard Langer, Jesper Parnevik

12:50 p.m. Mark Calcavecchia, Rocco Mediate, Jeff Maggert

No. 10 Tee

10:50 a.m. Scott Verplank, Wes Short, Jr., Jay Williamson

11:00 a.m. Miguel Angel Jiménez, Woody Austin, Doug Garwood

11:10 a.m. Olin Browne, P.H. Horgan III, Ken Tanigawa

11:20 a.m. Tim Petrovic, Tommy Armour III, Jeff Sluman

11:30 a.m. Brad Bryan, Esteban Toledo, David McKenzie

11:40 a.m. Steen Tinning, Tommy Tolles, Bob Tway

11:50 a.m. Steve Lowery, Tom Lehman, Scott McCarron

12:00 p.m. David Frost, Billy Andrade, José María Olazábal

12:10 p.m. Rod Spittle, Larry Mize, Larry Nelson

12:20 p.m. Brad Faxon, Dan Forsman, Ian Woosnam

12:30 p.m. Hale Irwin, Charlie Rymer, Joey Sindelar

12:40 p.m. Jay Haas, Trevor Dodds, Steve Pate

12:50 p.m. John Harris, Mike Goodes

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