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PODS Championship

PODS a potential turning point for Els, Calcavecchia

PALM HARBOR — Mark Calcavecchia would rather forget about last week's Honda Classic. Ernie Els wants to remember every bit of it.

Els shot 3-under 67 Sunday to jump from tied for eighth to champion in Palm Beach Gardens. Calcavecchia shot a final-round 73 to fall from tied for first to tied for fourth. He made double bogey on the par-3 15th hole after a greenside bunker shot rolled off the green and into rocks for an unplayable lie.

"That ball is still rolling," Calcavecchia said Wednesday.

For Els, it was his first win on the PGA Tour in almost four years, a span of 47 PGA events. That's a long dry spell for the world's third-ranked player and winner of 60 tour and international events.

"It's nice to have people come up to you on the (driving) range and congratulate you instead of saying, 'Bad luck,'  " Els said.

Two different players. Two different frames of mind.

Back to Innisbrook

Calcavecchia, 47, is at Innisbrook to defend his PODS Championship. He wasn't exactly brimming with confidence this time last year. He missed the cut at the Honda Classic and opened with 75 on the Copperhead Course. He had his bags packed and ready to leave.

"I was putting as badly as any professional player could possibly putt," he said. "It was probably the worst of my career."

That's when he switched to a putter he bought at a local golf shop in Palm Beach, made the cut on Friday and shot a course record-tying 62 on Saturday.

"If it's not the best round I've ever played, it's right up there," Calcavecchia said. "I shot a 60 in Phoenix the year I won there (2001). I think this course was playing harder than it was that day in Phoenix. Everything went right, right off the bat. I felt great right from the start."

The win at Innisbrook set the tone for one of Calcavecchia's best seasons. The University of Florida grad played in 28 tournaments and won $2,993,332, the most of his 26-year career. He qualified for the World Golf Championship event at Doral in Miami, as well as the Masters. He is in this year's Masters field after finishing 13th on the 2007 money list.

"Winning the PODS was definitely the springboard to my best year ever," Calcavecchia said.

This season he has played in seven events, with his best finish Sunday. But Calcavecchia is all about confidence, and coming so close last weekend still has him thinking about what might have been.

"I was a little more bummed out about it on Monday than I thought I'd be," he said. "Some things happened that didn't have to happen. It could've been a win for me."

Staying hot

Els, 38, seemed relaxed on the driving range before Wednesday's pro-am. The losing streak is over. Talk of being in the shadow of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson has subsided, at least for now.

"Many times I haven't been able to close the deal," Els said. "That's happened to me a lot in the past two years. So to win kind of gives me a fresh start."

Els had every reason to believe he might be jinxed. He was leading the Verizon Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C., last year, only to lose when Boo Weekley chipped in on 17 and 18. At the Dubai Desert Classic this year, Els wilted under the pressure of Woods despite having a 5-shot lead on Sunday.

And in his first appearance in the United States two weeks ago, Els lost his first match at the WGC-Accenture Match play 6 and 5 to Jonathan Byrd. That made Els more determined to do well on the Florida Swing.

"I've really set my sights on playing a solid Florida stretch," the South African said. "I need to get some confidence going before Augusta (Masters). What I've seen is that some aspects of my game under pressure have been lacking. My driving has always been a little iffy. And I've been working on my putting. Even last week, the final nine of the tournament, I had a lot of chances but I still didn't quite hole out. I feel like I'm hitting better putts under pressure now."

Rodney Page can be reached at page@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.

>>FAST FACTS

PODS Championship

When/where: Today-Sunday; Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club, Palm Harbor. TV: 3-6, Golf Channel

Schedule and ticket information, 6C

PODS a potential turning point for Els, Calcavecchia 03/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 5, 2008 10:29pm]

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