June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Perry punishes field at Nicklaus’ tourney


Staff Writer

DUBLIN — The Zen of Ken?

Hardly. Kenny Perry, a 47-year-old Kentucky native, is about as old school and down-to-earth as they come, a guy who eschews fancy swing coaches and expensive sports psychologists for good old-fashioned belief in self and faith in a higher power.

“God’s my psychologist,” he said.

You won’t find him jet-setting his way from tournament to tournament either, like so many big-name PGA Tour players. Nope, he has a truck and he drives it himself.

Still, the way he described his winning walk across a treacherous Muirfield Village golf course Sunday sounded positively mystical.

“I had an unbelievable calmness out there today, just very relaxed and very focused,” he said after shooting a 3-under 69 on another blustery day to come from three shots back to win his third Memorial championship and 10th PGA Tour title.

Perry’s winning total of 280 (8 under) came on a course hardened by dry and windy conditions – gusts were from 10-20 mph Sunday — and set up to almost major standards with its high rough and greasy greens.

No wonder it was the highest winning score at the Memorial in 23 years (Hale Irwin shot 7 under to win in 1985) and the 74.397 average score for the week was the tourney’s highest since 1990 and the highest on Tour this season, meaning it played even tougher than The Players Championship (74.286), long considered the fifth major.

“It’s a very difficult course out there today,” said Mike Weir after an even-par 72 that left him in a four-way tie for second with third-round leader Mathew Goggin (74), Justin Rose (71) and Jerry Kelly (71) at 6-under, two shots out of the lead. “It’s a tough golf course. Very tough pin placements and the greens are super fast. When you’re standing in the middle of the fairway, you don’t know which way the wind is blowing. And when you’re faced with this golf course, you don’t know what club to pull. It makes it hard.”

That’s why spectators saw a multitude of shots flying over greens or coming up woefully short. It’s why there were only four bogey-free rounds all week and just one Sunday (John Mills’ 68) and why the closest player to second place was another four shots back at 2-under 286.

It’s also why Perry called Sunday’s round “one of the greatest” he’s ever played.

“I shot 3-under on the front nine and it could have been 6-under,” said Perry, who became the Memorial’s oldest winner as well as the oldest winner on Tour this season. “I mean, I had it close on every hole. I just kept hitting it close. My iron shots were precise, my yardages were perfect.”

Perry moved up to fifth in the Ryder Cup standings with the win, which was possibly the best news he got all day. He desperately wants to make the team because the Cup is being played at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., just two hours from his hometown of Franklin, Ky.

Asked how many tickets he’ll need if he makes the team he said, “They better give me a lot because I know a lot’s coming. I even bought them. I got in a lottery and won.”

He won Sunday thanks to that scorching front nine and a steady back nine that included two huge par saves on 12 and 14.

Perry, who joined Tiger Woods as the Memorial’s only three-time champ while passing him as its all-time leading money winner, birdied the fifth and sixth holes to get to 7-under, than grabbed another at 9 to turn at 8-under.

Meanwhile, Goggin, a Tour non-winner who was trying to become the Memorial’s first wire-to-wire champ, made bogeys at the first and fourth to quickly fall back to the pack.

When Rose sank a bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 seventh, he momentarily grabbed the lead at 8-under, but he bogeyed the eighth and dropped out of it with two more bogeys on 12 and 13.

Weir moved to 8-under with a birdie at the ninth, but bogeys at 10 and 11 set him back. Still, he had an outside chance to catch Perry if he could birdie the final two holes. His chance ended when his 10-foot birdie putt slid past the hole at 17.

Kelly had the best shot to put some heat on Perry when he knocked an approach shot to 3 feet at 17. Down three at the time, he had a chance to cut the lead to one when Perry suffered his lone bogey of the day.

But Kelly, for some reason, got away from his pre-putt counting routine that helps him keep his head down.

The putt missed badly and Perry kept a two-shot lead heading into the last hole.

“I either took it for granted or went too fast,” Kelly said of the missed opportunity. “I know there were things going on inside my head that weren’t my routine.”

“It shocked me, I know, as much as it shocked him, but golf’s a crazy game,” Perry said.

No one knows that better than Perry, who has been in contention a lot lately without bringing home any trophies. He was in the final group at The Players only to shoot a disastrous 81 in the final round, then lost a playoff when his fairway-metal approach shot hit a tree and bounded across the green and into the water at the AT&T Classic.

But Perry expects positives when he plays at The Memorial, which just happens to be the site of his first Tour win in 1991.

“Magic always happens for me here,” he said. “I just love this place.”

You might say it’s his nirvana. Just know that he never would.

Aprile may be reached at ctsports@chroniclet.com or 440-329-7135.