Levi leads Dick’s Sporting Goods Open
ENDICOTT, N.Y. – Mark Calcavecchia likely won’t forget his first round on the Champions Tour.
A bundle of nerves after having two different kinds of balls in his bag and no pin sheet at the first hole in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, Calcavecchia settled down and shot a 5-under 67 on Friday and was just two shots behind leader Wayne Levi.
“I was kind of nervous starting out. That kind of freaked me out and I kind of panicked,” said Calcavecchia, who turned 50 two weeks ago. “Once we got by all that, I hit it good all day. Overall, I would have been more than ecstatic if you would have told me I would open with 5 under. I’m very happy with that.
“I’m just playing pretty good. Thank God. Good timing for me.”
Levi shot a 7-under 65 and had a one-shot lead over Brad Bryant and Dan Forsman. Calcavecchia, vying to become just the 16th player to win his first start on the Champions Tour, was tied for fourth with defending champion Lonnie Nielsen, Fred Funk, Olin Browne and Blaine McCallister.
Ken Green, in just his second start in a stroke-play event since an RV crash a year ago resulted in the loss of the lower part of his right leg, finished at 6-over 78 after playing the first 12 holes at even par.
Calcavecchia had five birdies and no bogeys, moving into contention with a string of three birdies to start the back nine. He hit sand wedge to 3 feet at No. 10, chipped in from 40 feet at No. 11 after hitting 9-iron left of the green, and two-putted for birdie at the 545-yard, par-5 12th hole, which ranked as the easiest hole of the day.
The 58-year-old Levi, who was born in Little Falls and still has a home in upstate New York, matched his lowest round in three years, and he, too, was elated.
“Nice to be here. It’s been a long time,” said Levi, the PGA Tour player of the year two decades ago.
Levi had seven birdies and no bogeys on a somewhat breezy, sun-splashed day at En-Joie Golf Club. After saving par at the first hole, he began to find his range, hitting a 7-iron to 12 feet at No. 3 and making the putt for birdie.
A pitching wedge to within a foot of the pin at the par-4 ninth hole set up a tap-in birdie that put Levi at 3 under, and he made four birdies on the back side to reach the top of the leaderboard.
Levi has been there before at En-Joie. He won the B.C. Open here in 1984, and the short, narrow course, very firm on this day, suited his game. Levi, who ranks second on the Champions Tour in driving accuracy percentage (83.9 percent), hit 11 of 14 fairways and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
“A course like this is made for me,” said Levi, who underwent double bypass surgery last year and made his return at this tournament, finishing in a tie for 33rd. “Even when your game’s kind of crummy and you’re not playing worth a darn, you come to these spots and bingo, you hit good shots and you have a good feeling. It just comes to you.”
Bryant birdied seven of the first 10 holes to tie for the lead, parred the next seven, then bogeyed 18 to fall back to second.
“I actually hit the ball almost as well on the back nine as I did on the front nine. I just didn’t make any putts,” Bryant said. “I hit the edge (of the hole) a lot. The ball just didn’t go in. Starting out, I just happened to really play well for a stretch of holes. All in all, it was a pretty good day up until the last hole.
“If I had parred the last hole, I’d have a lot better attitude,” said Bryant, who had a closing 76 to fall into a tie for 23rd at the Senior PGA Championship a month ago. “Right now, I’m pretty frustrated because I’ve finished poorly so many times this year.”
Green started well, nearly making an 8-foot birdie putt at No. 1, one of the most difficult holes on the course. He followed that with bogey at the 379-yard, par-4 second hole, a dogleg left, when he flubbed his second shot into the left trees after a perfect drive and was unable to get up and down from a slope behind the green.
Green made it back to even par with a birdie at the par-5 12th hole and was just two shots behind Bill Glasson and one shot behind Gene Jones, his playing partners. But he faltered in the closing holes, making double bogey at the par-4 13th hole and bogeys at each of the final four holes.
“That’s the game sometimes. I was like, all right, maybe I can do it, get started,” Green said. “I’m desperately trying to break par for one round. I’ll feel like I’m making strides. It didn’t work out. I’m not going to moan because, damn, there were some bad breaks on those last few holes. But that’s the nature of the game sometimes. It beats you up.”
Chalk it up to nerves. Green was met with polite applause at every turn as he hobbled on his prosthetic leg.
“I was a little tense. That’s got to come down a little,” he said. “It’s hard to play good golf when that fraction of tension is with you. If you don’t relax, you’re doomed in this game. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”
Divots: There were 25 rounds below 70 and 37 below par. … Levi has two wins on the Champions Tour, but none since the 2004 Constellation Energy Classic. … Area favorite Joey Sindelar had three bogeys and a pair of double bogeys and still shot 1 over.
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