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Perry Survives 'Shootout at Fox Chapel'
It was late Saturday afternoon and Kenny Perry, a good ole' boy from Kentucky, was chatting with the media after wrapping up his second 63 in a row - the 126 dislodging Jack Nicklaus from the record book, by the way. He was saying how he didn't know where he stood in this Constellation Senior Players Championship. Maybe leading, probably not.
After all, Freddy Couples was still on the course, and you know Freddy. And at that moment Couples came strolling in.
"Did you birdie the last hole?" Perry asked. "Yes," said Couples.
Perry slapped the table, a kind of dad-gum gesture. "Now I'm two behind," he said. "You've just got to go out, guns a-blazin', make birdies, put the pressure on them. If he shoots a crazy round of golf, I can't catch him. Ball's in his court and I'm going to have to shoot a phenomenal round again, which three good low rounds in a row is tough to do."
So this would be the Shootout at Fox Chapel come final-round Sunday, and the answer was "yes" to all of Perry's suppositions. Yes, Couples did shoot a crazy round of golf, if you like stone-handed putting after he hit every fairway and missed just one green. And yes, Perry did all of the others to take the Champions Tour's third major of the season, his first win of the year, his third on the pver-50 circuit, and his first major of any kind in a career of disasters at top-shelf events.
"I knew it was going to take a great score to win today," Perry said Sunday evening. "My goal, my word for the day, was patience. I'm not going to look ahead, I'm not going to look behind, I'm just going to play golf, and I hit it beautifully."
It was also a matter of mechanics. "The greens were very receptive, and we're all trying to stop the ball from spinning," he said. "I was taking a lot more club and hitting it easy to get the spin off the ball."
Perry opened with an indifferent 1-over 71. The pair of 63s got him deep into the hunt, however, and then he got that last low round, a 64, and it didn't look all that tough. It was good for a 19-under-par total of 261 and a two-shot win over a sagging Couples (68) and Duffy Waldorf (64), who was on a sizzling un-Duffy-like streak until he ran out of gas. That was the six-birdie 29 he posted on the front.
This completed a nice story for the Mr. Nice Guy from Franklin, Ky., a guy who is religious without being preachy, a strong family man and someone who even paid back his original sponsors when he really didn't have to. Perry had 14 wins on the PGA Tour, now has his third on the Champions Tour to go with a handful of collapses in the majors.
"I thought I was snakebit," he said Sunday night. "I got so close so many times, and I just seemed to mess up down the homestretch."
That die was cast at the 1996 PGA Championship when he was enjoying himself so much in the TV booth discussing his lead that he didn't see Mark Brooks coming, didn't warm up and lost in a playoff. He was about to win the 2009 Masters, leading by two with two to play, then bogeyed both and lost in a three-way playoff won by Angel Cabrera. And in the Senior PGA Championship about a month ago, he fizzled down the backstretch and got overrun by Japanese unknown Kohki Idoki.
There was a way to lose this Senior Players, too, but it was Couples who found it. The 53-year-old from Seattle came into the tournament as the No. 1 putter on the Champions Tour. But his putter sputtered Sunday. Couples missed three birdie putts from inside 12 feet early - this from the guy who rode a 20- and 25-footer late to a third-round 67 to hold the lead. His lead was bleeding away.
The killer came at the 286-yard par4 No. 7, which was a birdie-or-no-count for most everybody who drove the green. Couples turned a possible eagle and sure birdie into a three-putt par. Waldorf and Perry missed the green, ending up in deep, shaggy fescue. Couples hit the green and had a 20-footer for eagle. Waldorf hacked out to 10 feet, Perry to 8. Couples went 3 feet past with the eagle try, then missed the birdie try coming back and parred. Waldorf and Perry both birdied and they were all tied for the lead at 16-under.
The crazies hit Couples at the 475-yard, par-4 eighth, the toughest hole on the course. His approach bounced off a greenside sprinkler head and ended up 30 yards away. He bogeyed. Then he tied Perry for the lead with a birdie at the 14th. He fell away for good at the 15th, where he flipped a wedge to 8 feet and three-putted for bogey.
Waldorf, looking for his first Champions win, was super-hot on the front nine, opening with four straight birdies, then adding two more for a 29 and a one-shot lead.
"I didn't even really work very hard," Waldorf said. "The longest putt I made was about a 4-footer at No. 1. I felt like I was sprinting in the mile and was leading the first couple laps, and got to a spot with that 29 but wasn't able to continue on the back nine. All in all, it was a good finish."
Bogeys at the 12th and 15th send him back, but two closing birdies tied him for second with Couples.
Perry took a two-shot lead when he stiffed a wedge at the 16th for the only birdie of the three, then joined in a treasure hunt at the 17th, a par-3 "Biarritz" hole with a deep swale running across it. Couples hit to 8 feet, Waldorf to 3, and Perry to 2. All three birdied.
The best that could be said about the finish - apart from Waldorf's birdie - was that just after Perry holed the final putt to seal his win, Fox Chapel was hit with another deluge of rain. The tournament ended as it started.
"They played great," Couples said. "Duffy made a nice run, but Kenny didn't make any mistakes - and I sure did."
The Players had its other memorable attractions:
• This was the new Duffy Waldorf. He was known for years as a kind of latter-day flower child, with garish golf caps and shirts that didn't match. He's now gone monochrome: white cap and shirt one day, blue the next, etc. What happened?
"I threw the flowered shirt and the flowered cap where they belong," Waldorf explained, "in the trash bin."
• Colin Montgomerie, former spirit of the European Ryder Cup side, eight-time Euro Tour No. 1, made his Champions debut. He was vintage Monty with a non sequitur in the first round. He became irked at the rain delays. "I thought this was the easy tour," he said, "and I've been her 12 bloody hours."
He closed with a 65 and tied for ninth. "I've obviously a lot of work to do because the standard's very, very high," Monty said of his new tour. It was better than his other two visits to Pittsburgh, both U.S. Opens at Oakmont that ended like roadkill. In 1994, he finished tied with Ernie Els and Loren Roberts in regulation. And while Els went on to win Monty shot 78 in the playoff. In 2007, Monty shot 76-82 and got mad at his caddie.
• Couples and Waldorf each had 23 birdies, the most in the field, while Mark Calcavecchia had five, the fewest.
Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional honors. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.