Last Updated on Sunday, 01 June 2008 15:09 Sunday, 01 June 2008 14:24
DUBLIN, Ohio - Kenny Perry's sole purpose on the PGA Tour this year is to go home to Kentucky for the Ryder Cup. He took a big step Sunday by winning on a course that feels like home.
"Magic always happens for me here," Perry said after closing with a 3-under 69 to pull away from the pack for a two-shot victory at the Memorial, joining Tiger Woods as the only three-time winners at the tournament Jack Nicklaus built.
This was more about good golf than any wizardry.
As his contenders were in full retreat on the back nine of Muirfield Village, Perry surged ahead with two clutch par saves, a 5-wood that set up an easy birdie and hardly any mistakes to win for the first time in three years. It could not have come at a better time.
Perry squandered two good chances to win in the previous three weeks, closing with an 81 at The Players Championship and watching in utter shock as a fairway metal ricocheted off a tree and into the water to lose a playoff outside Atlanta.
And when he arrived at the Memorial, he heard Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger say that it would take nothing short of winning for a player to make the U.S. team at Valhalla.
The message came through as clear as the blue skies over Muirfield Village. "My time is running out," Perry said Sunday. "It's getting close to September. I said, 'You need to make it happen, and you need to make it happen fast.' And to be able to get the win here is huge."
The 47-year-old Perry became the oldest winner of the Memorial, meaningful for many reasons. As he walked off the 18th green with one final par, he received a warm handshake from Nicklaus and hugs from his wife and three children. It was the first time in his two decades on tour that his entire family was at a tournament he won.
Perry finished at 8-under 280, the highest score to win the Memorial in 23 years. He earned US$1.08 million, which translates to 1,080 points toward the Ryder Cup. Tour officials brought him a chart showing Perry at No. 5 in the standings. "Oh, sweet," Perry said. "You're going to get there," Nicklaus reassured him.
Perry is so desperate to make the team that he won't even bother qualifying for the U.S. Open. He does not like Torrey Pines, and figures he should devote his energy to tournaments where he has a better chance of earning points, such as Memphis next week and Hartford the week after the U.S. Open.
It felt like he won a U.S. Open at Muirfield - not so much because of its slick greens and six-inch rough, but the way par became such a prized possession for so many players.
Third-round leader Mathew Goggin stumbled to a 74, and tied for second with former Masters champion Mike Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., Justin Rose and Jerry Kelly, all of whom closed with a 71.
All of them had their chances until dropping shots somewhere along the back nine.
Weir, trying to become Canada's biggest PGA Tour winner with his ninth victory, chipped in for birdie from short of the ninth green to make the turn at 8 under and tied for the lead, but he also gave away shots early on the back nine.
Weir came up short on the 10th and missed a 10-foot par putt, then went over the 11th green with a wedge into rough so deep he could barely see his ball.
Weir had the last chance, two shots behind until missing a 7-foot birdie on the 17th. "When you win a tournament, you guess right a few times," Weir said. "Today, three times in a row I guessed wrong."
Perry took the lead with a birdie on the ninth hole and never gave it up, saving par from the back bunker on the par-3 12th and with a perfect flop shot from the rough above the 14th green.
Goggin's three-shot margin was gone in three holes, and his lead vanished in four, courtesy of two bogeys as everyone else was moving forward.
The only consolation was a birdie at No. 18 and a tie for second, matching his best PGA Tour result. "It took me three, four holes to calm down," Goggin said. "And that was the difference."
Four players had a share of the lead on the front nine, all of them poised to take charge. Rose was the first to 8 under when he holed a bunker shot for eagle on No. 7, but he retreated with a bogey from the bunker on the next hole and fell apart early on the back nine, not all by his own doing.
Still in range of the lead, Rose watched an approach just left of the flag on No. 13 hit a sprinkler in the fringe and carom into the gallery, leading to bogey.
Kelly never had a share of the lead, but he felt as miserable as the rest of them. Perry made his lone bogey on the 17th to fall to 8 under, and Kelly was 3 feet away for birdie to pull within one shot. His putt caught the lip and spun 5 feet away.
Perry finished with a par, saluted the gallery and walked over to meet the tournament host. "I hadn't seen you all week," he told Nicklaus walking off the 18th green. "It's nice to see you here."
Nicklaus, who played 43 consecutive U.S. Opens and won four of them, didn't flinch earlier Sunday when told that Perry was skipping the national championship.
"My goal was never to make the Ryder Cup. It was to win the U.S. Open," Nicklaus said. "But I understand. Being in Kentucky, it's a big thing for Kenny. He's looking at the big picture for him to do what he wants to do."
THE MEMORIAL TOURNAMENT
FINAL ROUND COMPLETE
1. Kenny Perry
T2. Mike Weir
T2. Justin Rose
T2. Mathew Goggin
T2. Jerry Kelly
T26. Jon Mills
By Inside Golf Staff
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