n Store-bought putter helps him fight into tie for lead

with Slocum at Palm Harbor.

BY DOUG FERGUSON

The Associated Press

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - One round into the PODS Championship and Mark Calcavecchia already had his bags packed to go home.

He wasn't quitting. He was just being honest.

Calcavecchia had been in a major slump with his putter, so bad that he went through five clubs in five rounds. And when he took 36 putts in the opening round on his way to a 75, he figured this would be a short week.

"All I had sitting out was a pair of shorts and a T-shirt," he said. "I was ready for the fast exit."

Now he's poised for an incredible turnaround at Innisbrook.

Calcavecchia finally found a putter he could call his friend and get this, he actually paid for it at a golf store. It carried him to 10 birdies Saturday to tie the Copperhead course record at Innisbrook with a 9-under 62, giving him a share of the lead with Heath Slocum.

Slocum birdied the last hole for a 67, joining Calcavecchia at 9-under 204.

Five players were within three shots of the lead, starting with defending champion K.J. Choi who finished with three tough par saves for a 67 to wind up one shot behind. A dozen more players were within five shots of the lead.

"It's so crammed at the top," Slocum said. "Calc proved today you can shoot a low number, although I didn't think anyone could shoot that low. Wow."

Calcavecchia usually is fun to watch for other reasons.

He rarely hides his feelings, especially when it comes to his putter. He walked off the course one year at Loch Lomond and handed his putter to a young English lad who only wanted an autograph. Last week at the Honda Classic, he tried a broom-handle putter that he snapped over his knee midway through the second round.

"The good thing was it gave me two pieces to throw into the lake," he said.

It got so bad at the Honda that after making a short birdie putt on his 12th hole, he stepped it off shoe-to-shoe to measure the distance (and found out later it was 4 feet, 2 inches).

"That was the longest of the week," he said.

So after missing the cut, he went to a golf retail store looking for a long-handled putter, didn't like the choices and settled on a conventional Ping model that suited his eye and cost him $256.18. It's probably a good thing that he paid for it, because that would be less incentive to break it. That goes into his decision on which putter to use.

"I just kind of look at it and see which one looks less ugly to me," he said. "Or which one I really wouldn't mind breaking some time during the course of the round."

He also made a slight change in his stroke, pulling more with his left hand.

Either way, he started pouring in putts from everywhere, climbing the leaderboard and getting everyone's attention.

"When everyone saw him get hot, they started to chase," Lucas Glover said after a 67 put him in the group at 207. "When I looked up at the board on 12, I said, 'Man, I've gotta go if I want to be there.' I think everyone got aggressive."

Slocum pecked away on the back nine, making birdie on the tough 16th and following that with a 10-footer on the 18th. He will be in the final group, with one eye over his shoulder.

It figures to change slight Sunday, with tougher hole locations and the pressure of the final round.

Calcavecchia surely will feel some of that.

He is a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, including a British Open, but at age 46, these chances don't come along very often.

He is not the model of fitness in golf, and his body creaks so much that he started taking pills of glucose and other herbal extracts that have helped soothe his joints. Foremost is his putting.

"The older you get, the harder it gets," he said. "Chances aren't as readily available as they used to be for me. So I'm sure I'll be nervous tomorrow just like everybody was last week, and everybody was the week before. I'll give it my best shot."

It's also a big week for Eric Larson, his caddie. Calcavecchia already told him this would be there last week for a while because he likes to give several caddies a chance to work for him.

Larson, one of the most likable loopers on tour, spent 11 years in prison after he was convicted of being the middle man in a small-time drug ring. When he got out, Calcavecchia wanted to help him with his second chance.

"I paid him fairly well for our two top 10s," he said. "That really got him out of a bind. I felt good about that. I would like to write him an extra big check. This would be a nice way to enjoy next week and give Eric a month of two off."

He might be changing caddies, but the putter looks like it's safe - for now.

"It has earned bag time for a while, even it goes south," he said. "I know I like the putter. And I know I can putt with it. So that's about three-quarters of the battle."

Divots: Slocum played on the same high school golf team as Boo Weekley, who played in the final group last week at the Honda Classic and lost in a four-man playoff. ... Calcavecchia said the USGA's proposal to limit the amount of spin produced by grooves in the irons was "ridiculous." It was his 8-iron out of the rough in the '87 Honda Classic that spun back on the green that first got the USGA's attention, leading to lawsuits that were settled out of court. "It's not the grooves," he said. "It's the ball." ... Two of the more promising young players on tour 24-year-old Ryan Moore and 21-year-old Anthony Kim were paired Saturday. Both shot 68 and were at 5-under 208.

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