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With a few pints and a couple Aleve, Mark Calcavecchia is back in contention at the British Open

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Mark Calcavecchia won the British Open in 1989.

TURNBERRY, Scotland - Mark Calcavecchia has long been the PGA Tour's most lovable wreck. He suffers from sleep apnea and wears a mask to bed. He admits, to borrow a Johnny Miller line, that his back problems are a result of his front problems.

"I'm not physically in good-enough shape," said the 49-year-old, who shot a second-round 69 and was at four under, just one behind leaders Steve Marino and Tom Watson at the 138th British Open at Turnberry. "If I was stronger, my core and all that other stuff we talk about — losing a little weight will certainly help, but that doesn't seem to be happening."

Calcavecchia's back was so locked up Sunday, when the field played 36 holes at the weather-plagued John Deere Classic, that he considered not playing this week. But he didn't consider it for long. The Open, which Calcavecchia won in a four-hole playoff over Wayne Grady and Greg Norman in 1989, is Calc's favorite tournament.

"It did cross my mind, like, if my back's going to feel this bad, why travel all the way over there and put myself through that?" he said. "But you know, once I got done I took a few more Aleve and a couple of beers and I was okay and got on the plane, and several more beers went flowing down." (The Tour chartered a plane from the John Deere to Prestwick.)

"The next thing you know we're landing," Calcavecchia continued, eliciting laughter from the assembled media. "I felt pretty good on Monday."

Calcavacchia, whose wife, Brenda, is his caddie this week, has talked a lot about beer since he landed. After his first-round 67, when he hit 17 greens in regulation, he mentioned how much fun he's been having getting to know other players like Lucas Glover, Matt Kuchar and Boo Weekley in the Duel in the Sun Pub.

"The beer is very tasty," he said.

That's not something you hear much from today's robopros, but there's nothing like the almighty pint to ingratiate yourself with the locals. After his round Friday, Calcavecchia was asked if it's true he's been allowing himself the odd post-round libation. And how many is he allowing himself?

"Four seems to be a nice round figure," he said, eliciting laughter. "It's just enough, but it's not too many."

And his brand?

"I'm working on Saint Mungo this week," he said. "It's pretty good stuff."

At that point Calcavecchia may as well have been the patron saint of Glasgow himself, because it was abundantly clear that those paid to chronicle the 138th Open had been blessed with an honest, flawed, funny human being near the top of the leaderboard.

Calcavecchia, on his mental game (he's avoided anything worse than bogey): "I'm actually kind of using my head, which is unusual for me."

On his career: "There's no question I should have won at least 20 tournaments." (He's won 13.) "I've got, I don't know, 27 seconds or whatever I've had and another 25 thirds or something." (Actually, it's 17 thirds.)

"I don't even know what it is. It's a lot. Twenty-seven seconds — I think only [Greg] Norman has got more. I probably gave 10 of those away, and the rest of them I made good rallies to finish second.

"But I could have won a Masters," he added, referring to 1988, when he finished in second, a shot back. "Sandy Lyle hit the shot of his life out of the fairway bunker."

On the conventional wisdom for his and Watson's resurgence: "I think experience is way overrated. All that means is I've hit more bad shots than all the guys that are 20 years old, and they're lingering in my brain."

On his occasional bouts of moodiness with wife Brenda on the bag: "They're always my fault. At Hoylake I ruined the whole week when I went berserk on the back nine." (Calcavecchia plummeted down the leaderboard with a back-nine 43 on the way to a final-round 80, finishing in a tie for 41st place.)

"I still feel bad about it," he added.

Calcavecchia is not exactly enjoying a banner year, like he did in '89, when he won three times including the Open at Troon. In 14 starts this season heading into this week, he missed five cuts, withdrew twice and had a best finish of T4 at Pebble Beach.

"This is about the second time this year I didn't struggle to make the cut," he said. "So I'm just happy with that. I'm usually choking so bad coming down the last few holes on Friday because I want to play the weekend."

But can he win? It would seem unlikely, but then again it didn't seem likely that Tiger Woods would be in danger of missing the cut while Tom Watson, 59, would share the 36-hole lead. Even Calcavecchia wasn't sure what to think.

But one thing is certain: Calcavecchia is in no danger of taking his final years on Tour for granted. His old friend Ken Green was just fitted for a prosthetic leg after his RV blew a tire on the highway earlier this summer. The crash killed Green's brother and girlfriend, and his dog.

Although he spoke about Green after his first round, the subject didn't come up again Friday. Instead, Calcavecchia was left to ruminate about a 28-year Tour career that could get its final exclamation point this weekend.

"I'm not all wrapped up in Hall of Fame stuff," he said. "There some people who have brought it up. I need a few more wins or another major or something. I'm not concerned with that at all. I'm just trying to pay for the house I'm building in Tequesta."

Several members of the media cracked up laughing, again.

"Everybody's going to be nervous," Calc added. "I mean, what it would mean for me to win this thing would be beyond description."

Maybe so, but you'd better believe Calcavecchia would give it a good effort.

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