Gorman: Kenny Perry finally gets 'over the hump' in a major
Fred Couples was primed to win the Constellation Senior Players Championship, which is exactly what the spectators slogging through rain-soaked Fox Chapel Golf Club wanted to see.
They shouted “Boom Boom” from the galleries, applauding his every swing as he broke the course record with an 8-under 62 in the second round and birdied his last hole of the third round to take a two-stroke lead into Sunday.
“He's so cool; it's amazing,” Kenny Perry said Saturday of Couples. “If he shoots a crazy round of golf, I can't catch him. So the ball's in his court, and I'm going to have to shoot a phenomenal round again.”
Perry already had shot back-to-back 63s, so he knew another low round would be tough to do.
It was going to take someone or something special to beat the California-cool Couples, who won the 1992 Masters and 2011 Senior Players and was the overwhelming crowd favorite to win again.
It was going to take, as the final groupings had it, one of two guys who never had won a major on the PGA or Champions tours and had resigned themselves to the possibility that they weren't meant to win majors.
There was Perry from Franklin, Ky., a farming town of 10,000 people, as he described it, in the Middle of Nowhere, USA. The 52-year-old talked about how he struggled to walk until he had fluid drained from his knee and how he takes pain medication to keep the swelling down.
Then there was Duffy Waldorf, best known for his loud shirts and colorfully painted golf balls. Waldorf joked early in the week that he put his Hawaiian shirts in the trash — “where they belong” — but admitted Sunday that he started wearing solid colors after dropping 20 pounds from his 250-pound frame.
“I think I look better in these clothes,” Waldorf said with a smile. “It shows off my new body better. I want to look skinny.”
After draining birdies on his first four holes and six of nine for a 29 on the front, Waldorf had a slim lead. He went from four strokes back to one ahead as Couples had two birdies and a bogey after hitting a sprinkler head on No. 8.
“It was like a dog race coming down the last nine holes,” Perry said. “I knew it was going to take something special to win the golf tournament.”
Perry was in the midst of delivering just that, going a second straight round without a bogey — an unimaginable feat in a major — to match Waldorf at 6-under 64.
Perry had begun to believe he was snakebitten. He blew a one-stroke lead by bogeying the final hole at the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla and lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks. He lost a two-stroke lead with bogeys on the final two holes of the 2009 Masters before losing a playoff to Angel Cabrera.
“I couldn't get over the hump when ‘major' was attached to it,” Perry said. “I just said, ‘You know what? We're going to go out and going to just focus on the shot at hand. I'm not going to look ahead. I'm not going to look behind. I'm just going to play golf and let the chips fall where they may.' ”
When Couples bogeyed No. 15, Perry took a lead he wouldn't surrender and one Couples couldn't catch.
Perry birdied Nos. 16 and 17 — the same hole he aced last year — which allowed him to play for par on 18.
Menacing clouds hovered above, and thunder shouted “Boom Boom” as Couples missed a 100-foot eagle putt on the 18th. When Perry putted for the victory, an air horn sounded a severe weather warning, and everyone evacuated.
Mother Nature might have rained on the celebration of his first major victory, but Perry took solace in knowing that the golf gods were finally smiling down on him.