After dropping out of a Saturday morning tie for the lead by shooting a 3 over 74 in the third round, Kenny Perry bounced back magnificently on Sunday, quickly taking advantage of the fading 54 hole leader Mathew Goggin to charge back to the front on the early in the round, and then holding on to win by two over Goggin, Mike Weir, Jerry Kelly, Justin Rose.
The win was Perry’s third in Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, tying him with Tiger Woods for the most wins at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. Perry has often expressed his desire to secure a spot on the Ryder Cup team and play in his home state of Kentucky at Valhalla, but he was stung by Ryder Cup Captain Paul Azinger’s comments that he “wanted winners” for his Captain’s Picks. Perry took it to heart, and inspired by Azinger’s statement, he saw the Memorial as a ticket for the September match against the Europeans.
Jack’s course was the topic of conversation for most of the week. The Golden Bear had always envisioned his tournament becoming a “Masters of the North”, and in one regard, it certainly looked it, as the green speeds were so high that commentator David Feherty stated that “it was like putting on slow linoleum”.
But if the greens were like Augusta, the rough was looking more like it will in two weeks at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open. A wet spring in Columbus, along with rain earlier in the week made the seven inch rough disastrous to hit into. And then adding one last twist of devilment were Jack’s notorious furrowed bunkers.
As a result, the cut line of six over was the highest ever seen so far this year on the tour. There were more rounds over 80 (38) than there were rounds under 70 (30), and only nine players completed the four days under par.
The final day started with people questioning whether Goggin, who had never won on tour, could do what no man had ever done, winning the Memorial the very first time he played it.
That was almost determined before the 2:30 broadcast time for CBS. By the time Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo picked up the action, Goggin had seen his three stroke lead completely disappear. The 33 year old Australian had made his way all week by tearing things up on the front nine, which he had played at seven under through the first three rounds, and then hold on through the back nine, which he’d played at one under.
But the nerves were obvious, as Goggin bogeyed two of the first three holes, while both Rose and Weir had passed him by one by shooting two under. Perry had back-to-back birdies on #5 and #6, which made it a three way tie for first. When Goggin got a birdie back on #5, there was a four-person scrambled, and it wasn’t even 3 PM.
Perry and Weir then came up with birdies on the ninth hole, putting them on top, but then the wheels started falling off as both Rose and Weir ended up getting stuck in the rough and falling two strokes back.
The tournament was arguably won by Perry on the tough 14th hole, when his second shot found the rough above the hole, a result that had almost always meant bogey as it was nearly impossible to stop the ball on the slick downhill run to the pin. However, Perry put an amazing shot within five feet of the cup and saved his par. He followed that with an excellent approach shot to the par five 15th, and although his missed the fifteen foot eagle put, the subsequent birdie gave him a three stroke lead, forcing all the others to take risks to try to catch up.
Perry’s last scare came on 17, where there could have been a two stroke swing with Perry’s playing partner Kelly, but the entertaining Wisconsin native missed the short birdie put that could have sent the pair to the final hole with only one stroke between them.
With that, it was just a matter of Perry getting the congratulatory greeting from Sir Jack…and then Perry jokingly telling the CBS announcers that he looks forward to coming back next year and taking the overall lead in Memorial wins from Tiger.
Yes, we all know it was said in jest, but as Perry is now the oldest man who has ever won at Muirfield Village, you just never know.