| Kenny Perry with his trophy after winning the Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Sunday. Perry won the tournament at 13-under. (AFP)
Dublin (Ohio): Kenny Perry is enjoying the best run of his professional career and will have to be considered a real contender for next week’s US Open at Olympia Fields after back-to-back wins in the last two PGA Tour events.
The 42-year-old American coasted to victory by six shots in the Colonial two weeks ago and, despite bogeying five of the last six holes on Sunday, had been in sufficient command of the Memorial Tournament that he was still able to win by two. His even-par 72 left him on 13-under-par 275 and was worth $700,000.
Twice US Open champion Lee Janzen also shot 72 and was second, while Masters champion Mike Weir of Canada fired a seven-under 65 for third.
Playing his first PGA event since the Masters in April, world No. 1 Tiger Woods also had a 65 and tied for fourth with Fiji’s Vijay Singh (71).
Both of Perry’s wins were achieved in high-profile events against top-quality fields and, on both occasions, he was widely seen as the player to beat going into the last two rounds.
“He’s playing fantastic,” said Weir. “When he gets hot, he can really go after it and go low. He’s just in a nice groove right now.”
At the Colonial, Perry was seven strokes clear going into the back nine and, despite a brilliant final round of 61 by Justin Leonard, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him winning the fifth PGA Tour title of his career.
“Kenny Perry is the guy to beat this weekend,” Jim Furyk had said on the Friday at the Colonial, a comment that accurately reflected views of Perry’s form by his peers.
The likeable man from Kentucky had opened with scores of 68 and 64 at Colonial Country Club, and then went even lower over the weekend with rounds of 61 and 68, finishing with a tournament record aggregate of 19-under-par 261.
“I always knew I could win out here,” Perry said after his two-shot victory on Sunday. “I always felt like my game was good enough.
“We had a strong field this week. And that excites me to be able to beat the best.
“(Before) I was not pushing the right buttons at the right time it seemed like. Mentally and emotionally, now I’m so much calmer on the golf course.
“I just feel relaxed... when I get into the heat of the shot, I am able to slow down, my heart rate slows down. I slow everything down.
“I slowed my swing down and I was hitting terrific golf shots,” added Perry, who joined tournament host Jack Nicklaus, Woods, Greg Norman and Hale Irwin as the only multiple winners at the Memorial. He also won in 1991.
In five previous US Open starts, Perry has twice missed the cut with a best finish of joint-25th at Baltusrol in 1993. But his PGA Tour career has already featured several streaky runs of form and he is eyeing next week with confidence.
“Hopefully I can regroup and keep the same thoughts I have been using with my swing, guide myself, go home and enjoy it and show up at The Open ready to go,” said Perry, who is taking this week off.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think I can do real well if I keep driving like I’m doing.
“I have always been a steady player. I have never been flashy but I always hit it far enough, straight enough. My short game has been lacking, these last two weeks, but I’ve putted great. That’s the difference.”
Perry moves up four spots in the official world rankings to a career-high 11th in the world rankings and is fifth in the US money list following his back-to-back wins.
His points tally of 177.50 during 2003 is the best of any player outside the world’s top five and is reflected by his improvement of 17 ranking places so far this year.
If he can maintain his red-hot form for just one more week, he could be on the verge of a major breakthrough.
The US Open, the second of the year’s four Major championships, takes place at Olympia Fields near Chicago from June 12-15.