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Jupiter's Mark Calcavecchia holds off Langer to win Boca Raton Championship

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Even as well as he was playing, Mark Calcavecchia couldn't be sure he wouldn't "literally fall apart" as he attempted to win a tournament for the first time in nearly three years.

It wasn't his game he was concerned about failing him as much as his troublesome back.

As it turned out, Calcavecchia's back was fine. His game was shaky down the stretch but held up well enough for a wire-to-wire victory Sunday at the Boca Raton Championship at Broken Sound.

Calcavecchia held off a persistent charge from Bernhard Langer by two shots with a 70 in the final round on the Old Course to finish at 16-under par for 54 holes.

Langer, a Boca Raton resident and reigning PGA Tour Champions Player of the Year, pulled even briefly before uncharacteristically bogeying the final two holes.

"I just didn't think it would happen again," said Calcavecchia, who hadn't won since June 2015 at the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa. "These guys are so good out here. The level of play is just insane, including Mr. Langer, obviously. "It's so hard, I can't tell you.

"I think I made enough putts, and sometimes the good Lord pencils you in, and this week was meant to be."

Calcavecchia, the popular former Florida Gator who grew up in West Palm Beach, had never finished better than a tie for seventh in his hometown tournament in six previous attempts. It was his fourth win on the Tour Champions and first with his wife, Brenda, caddying for him.

"She's going to be bawling her eyes out, if she hasn't been already," said Calcavecchia, crediting Brenda as his calming influence.

Their hopes of sharing victory appeared to be fading when his shot at the par-3 16th fell short into a lake.

Calcavecchia stared in disbelief, hands on hips. But he didn't cave in, nailing a 15-foot putt to save bogey and keep a share of the lead.

It was Langer who went astray after that and couldn't recover. Langer put his approach on 17 into a right-side bunker. Then, even more surprising, pushed a 4-foot putt just right for a bogey that put Calcavecchia alone again in the lead.

Calcavecchia noticed something amiss on Langer's backstroke on the putt.

"He doesn't do it very often, but I watched his backstroke and it was really short and quick. As soon as I saw that, I went, hmm. Sure enough, he hit a bad putt."

Langer then had his tee shot on 18 skip right and bounce off a tree, ending up on wood chips just off the edge of the rough. His next two shots found sand, and the tournament belonged to Calcavecchia.

"It's just a sad finish to a really great week of golf," Langer said. "I didn't put any pressure on him [on 18]. "He got away with making par. But he played well and putted very well."

Calcavecchia's performance was a resounding endorsement for a surgical procedure called Rhizotomy, which involves severing nerve roots in the spinal cord to relieve chronic back pain and muscle spasms.

After five years of debilitating back trouble he decided to give it a try upon recommendation from fellow pro Jay Haas, who had it. During a grueling day in mid-December, Calcavecchia drove to Naples, gritted through the painful procedure and drove back home to Jupiter.

Results appeared promising a month later when he started out with consecutive rounds of 67 in the season-opening tournament in Hawaii. But some of the back issues returned during the final round, and his score blew up to 80 on the way to finishing 36th.

"Let's hope that doesn't happen again," he said Friday after opening with a 64.

But feeling better enabled him to sharpen his game by playing as many as five times a week over the past month. Many of those rounds were with Russ Cochran, who turned in the best final round with a 65 to finish fifth at 11-under. Fred Funk was third (minus-13) and David Toms (minus-12) was fourth.

Calcavecchia began the day at 14-under par, two shots ahead of Langer, who wasted no time throwing down the challenge with a birdie on the first hole. Calcavecchia responded with one of his own to maintain his advantage. He doubled it with birdies on the next two holes while Langer settled for par.

Calcavecchia said after the first round that he had his sights on getting to 20-under-par, considering Langer was as good as even money for 18-under.

It was Calcavecchia who got to minus-18 with a birdie on the par-4 seventh hole, which increased his lead to four strokes. It was his last birdie of the day.

"The hard part for me today was my speed on the greens was terrible," he said. "I left them short, I blew them by. I don't know why but my speed didn't feel right. It turned out it got interesting, but I got the job done."

Errant putting by Calcavecchia led to a bogey on the par-3 14th hole as his lead dwindled to one. Calcavecchia sent a putt from 90 feet zipping across the green, past the hole and onto the fringe. After watching intently, Langer stepped up to a long putt from a similar area and put it within four feet of the hole. His par putt from there elevated the pressure.

Somehow it was the unflappable Langer, who was seeking his fourth win since turning 60 in August, who cracked at the end.

Calcavecchia, who at 57 wasn't sure he'd even continue playing until the Rhizotomy procedure gave him a start on what he hopes is his "Senior Tour 2.0." But winning wasn't necessarily on the radar.

"I'm beyond thrilled," he said. "Every week you show up and you go maybe a miracle will happen. That's why I keep showing up."

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