Perry ready to challenge young bucks
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Kenny Perry wobbled out of his last PGA Tour event, he was re-examining his health, his equipment and his game in general.
He must have done something right, as he is blowing up on the Champions Tour. The ambassador to The Greenbrier resort shot his second straight 63 Saturday in the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh, lifting him to second place. He enters today's final round two shots behind Fred Couples.
That gives him some momentum entering his fourth Greenbrier Classic, which begins with practice rounds Monday at the Old White course. The 52-year-old native of Elizabethtown, Ky., will slug it out with the youngsters for the third time this year.
He still hangs in there, having made the last two Classic cuts. This year, he finished 33rd in the Byron Nelson Championship and missed the Memorial Tournament cut by three shots.
After the latter tournament, Perry planned to get an MRI on his knees, and wondered how he was going to reduce the stress on them. He wasn't sure he would play the upcoming Tradition, a major on the oldsters' circuit, or the Greenbrier over the Fourth of July weekend.
As it turns out, he played in the Tradition and two Champions Tour events since, finishing 15th, tied for third and the current second. But it wasn't easy - he called his recovery over the last two weeks a "miracle."
He took a cortisone shot in his left knee recently and has had fluid drained out of the joint, freeing him up to walk the course with relative ease.
"If you have had a needle this long stuck in your knee with a big syringe sucking all that junk out of you, that's not very pleasant,'' Perry said Saturday after his round. "But once they do it, immediately it gives you relief. The pressure's off and you can actually bend your knee, you can actually walk.''
He is ninth in the Charles Schwab Cup standings and could crack the top five. Still, he knows he has to adjust his game as much as he has to take care of his knees.
"I found out my game has changed so much over the years. I don't hit it high enough and don't spin it enough," he said. "I hit if flatter than I used to, which gives me power off the tee but my iron shots ... I had trouble maneuvering it, keeping it around the hole. I would always hit the green and it would kind of skip over.
"I don't know what I've got to do - change my swing, change my irons ... I probably need to change shafts. That's probably the direction I'm going to go in."
Perry has never won a major on the big tour, but he came close - second in the 1996 PGA Championship, tied for third in the U.S. Open and tied for second in the 2009 Masters. His 14 Tour victories were spread between 1991 and 2009, and his three Memorial victories were spaced from 1991 to 2008.
Pending the four Monday qualifiers, Perry is the second-oldest entrant in the Greenbrier Classic field, behind the legendary Tom Watson, the resort's pro emeritus, who is 63.
Last year, Watson no doubt got a chuckle out of beating Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Hey, he made the cut and they did not, right?
Watson faded with a 71-75, but it showed what he still can do with a club in his hands. The difference is he has trouble with the combination of age and the general lengthening of courses.
He is slipping a touch on the Champions Tour, where most players begin in their prime on their 50th birthday. He is 30th in the Schwab Cup standings, and hasn't won a tournament since the 2011 Senior PGA Championship.
As for the big tour, Watson probably will play the same three events he played in 2011 and 2012 - the Masters, the British Open and the Greenbrier. He has a lifetime exemption into the Masters and has two years left on his British exemption.
The third-oldest member in the field will be 50-year-old journeyman Neal Lancaster, who splits time between tours. No. 4 is Vijay Singh, who turned 50 in February but seems to be in no hurry to join the Champions Tour. In fact, he was 1 under par midway through the suspended second round of the AT&T National in Bethesda, Md., placing him in a tie for 22nd.
The native of Fiji and World Golf Hall of Fame member plans to come to the Greenbrier for the second year in a row. He fired a first-round 63 last year and before falling to 33rd.
Whether Singh says a peep to anyone, media or not, remains to be seen. He was embroiled in a controversy over his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which was on the Tour's list of banned substances (it has been dropped since). Singh filed suit against the Tour, so that issue isn't dead just yet.
Davis Love III and Jeff Maggert are 49, while Jesper Parnevik, Scott Verplank and Steven Ames are 48.
As for the rest of the field, it appears to be less accomplished than last year's collection, but not by much.
With the resurrected Woods in the fold, the 2012 Classic fielded 14 of the world's top 30 ranked players, 35 of the top 70 and 54 of the top 100.
That may be too much to duplicate for the foreseeable future. Led by Mickelson, this week's field will feature seven of the top 30, 17 of the top 70 and 28 of the top 100, with 37 of the next 100.
By a very unofficial calculation, the tournament will be worth 42 ranking points to the winner. That is below the 48 of last year but well ahead of the 32 given in 2010 and 2011.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.