"I see no reason why Nick can't have another great season, but nobody has ever kept up that pace, except for maybe Nicklaus," says Paul Azinger, who won 11 times between '87 and '93. "It's so hard to maintain that success these days. Ten wins in two years. That's unbelievable. How does a player keep winning like that? Who knows? Nick's just awesome right now."
"I've always thought Nick Price had an aura about him even before he became Nick Price," says Mark McCumber. "I've always thought he carried himself and walked like a champion. Now he has the countenance and record to match it. A lot of guys have great success and then their heads blow up, but if anything, Nick is even nicer than in the past."
Having passed up the Tour so far this year to play overseas, Price seemed to approach the Honda more as early practice for the Masters. He shot rounds of 71-70-69-74 to finish 13th. Price has his sights aimed at Augusta, where only once, in 1986 when he set the course record of 63, was he in serious contention, finishing fifth. Earning a green jacket would make him the first player to win three straight majors since Ben Hogan did it in 1953.
With Price not yet at top form, Faldo's competition at the Honda boiled down to what appeared to be a couple of easy Marks: Calcavecchia and O'Meara. Though both are talented players, neither had won a Tour event since 1992. Calcavecchia's last win came at the Phoenix Open, O'Meara's one week later at the AT&T National Pro-Am.
After a 66 in the opening round last Thursday, Calcavecchia spoke hopefully about his chances for a victory. "It's almost like I'm trying to get my first win again," he said. "I've got to get back in the chase more often. Last year I only had three chances. I want to be in the hunt eight, nine, 10 times."
Nine years ago Calcavecchia participated in the Honda Classic as a caddie for Ken Green. The following year he won the tournament with a caddie of his own. He won again the next season, and in '89 he won two Tour events and the British Open. Suddenly the guy who had struggled through three qualifying schools and a myriad of mini-tours was becoming sated. "It's hard to stay on top in this game," Calcavecchia says. "You start to win and think you can relax. That happened to me. You just get complacent."
Calcavecchia says that missing the cut by one stroke at the PGA last season turned him around. "I told myself, That's it. I'm tired of getting beat by guys I know I can beat," he remembers. "I'm tired of floundering around 30th or 40th on the money list. I want to feel like I'm a player to be reckoned with again."
All of that said, Calcavecchia came out Friday and shot an unsightly 77 that concluded with a botched one-foot par putt on 18. He then bolted into the locker room and barked at nobody in particular, "Four beers to go." Alas, on the weekend he added a lackluster 74-72 to finish 47th.
O'Meara's troubles have had nothing to do with a lack of desire. He slipped to 86th on the money list last season while coming nowhere near winning a tournament and places the blame on family matters, including the construction of a new house outside Orlando. But of more significance was the illness of his longtime caddie, Donnie Wanstall. Wanstall was discovered to have multiple sclerosis after collapsing on the driving range at The Players Championship last March. "It puts everything in perspective," says O'Meara. "I haven't played well for the last year and a half. This game has a way of eating away at your confidence. It's a tough, tough game. The secret is standing up and having that feeling, a comfortable feeling, a flow, and that's just now starting to come back. I'm anxious but cautious."
O'Meara, who has made the cut in all seven tournaments he has played this season, shot 68-65 to grab a three-shot lead at the halfway point at the Honda, whereupon he was asked about his winless streak. He sounded remarkably like Calcavecchia the day before. "I'm not going to put pressure on myself," O'Meara said. "I'm not going to say that it'll be miserable if I never win again. It won't be. But I believe I'll be back in the winner's circle. If not this week, then next week or the week after that. I've never lost hope."