By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
ST. LOUIS - The final tally will show that Kenny Perry tied for second with Jay Haas in the 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, two shots behind surprise winner, Japan's Kohki Idoki.
How that happened for Perry, however, is likely something the friendly Kentuckian will be wondering for some time. Perry is too nice to slam his trunk when he leaves Bellerive Sunday night, but there's no doubt his ride home to Franklin, Ky., will call for some serious head scratching.
Perry entered the final round at Bellerive sporting a two-shot lead over Jay Haas and was five ahead of Idoki, who began Sunday at 5 under.
With the way he'd been playing all week - Perry was the only player in the field with three consecutive rounds in the 60s over the first 54 holes - it seemed as though Sunday at Bellerive would finally be Perry's coronation from great player to major champion.
Through five holes in the final round on Sunday, Perry had increased his lead to three shots over Haas with three birdies in his first four holes. Not only did Perry seem poised to erase the heartache he suffered in playoff losses at the 1996 PGA Championship and the 2009 Masters, but he looked well on his way to winning his first major in stunning fashion, with authority.
Sure, there was that bogey on the par-3 sixth hole, but that wasn't a big deal. It played as the hardest hole at Bellerive all week and only allowed four birdies in the final round.
"I birdied three of the first four again," Perry said. "I was 3 under again, like yesterday, off to a great start. And then that sixth hole kills me. I can't play that hole to save my neck. That little par 3 just, I bail out left every time. And I bogey it every time."
By the time Perry finished up the 12th hole, he was 2 under for the day with his three-shot advantage still intact. He was just six holes away from that elusive first major championship win.
Then came the 190-yard par-3 13th hole. That's where disaster struck and the outcome that appeared inevitable suddenly came into question.
The worst part about it all for Perry is the fact that he felt he'd hit the perfect shot.
With a 6-iron in hand on the tee box, he watched in disbelief as his ball sailed over the green and into some thick rough. A chip out of the spinach rolled out to about 20 feet. From there, he three-putted for a shocking double bogey.
"I hit a good shot," Perry said. "I could have stood there and told you, when that ball was in the air, I was thinking that thing is in the middle of the green. I couldn't believe it flew the green. So either I got a bad yardage or something ... I don't know. It's one of those deals. I can't explain it."
Up ahead, Idoki had birdied the 14th hole and in the blink of an eye, Perry went from a three-shot lead to a share of the lead with Idoki at 10 under.
"That kind of shell-shocked me a little bit," Perry said. "I couldn't believe it went that far, for one thing. And then I was in jail the whole time. So to make double on a hole that you think you can make birdie on, or at least par, that hurt."
After a bogey on No. 16 - another par-3 where Perry flew the green, this time with a 7-iron - Idoki had birdied the par-5 17th hole. It was another brutal swing for Perry. In a matter of six holes, he went from a three-shot lead to a share of the lead to two behind with two to play.
"On 16 or something I looked over and saw that he [Idoki] was at 11 ... or was it 17? I was like, where did he come from? You know," said Perry, who played the four par-3 holes at Bellerive in 4 over par on Sunday. "I knew I saw him around 9 and wasn't paying a lot of attention to the board. And then when I saw him at 11, I was like, good grief, I went from 2 up to 2 down in a hurry."
Needing a birdie at worst on the par-5 17th, Perry took an aggressive line and paid for it. The tee shot sailed way right into some heavy rough. Blocked out by trees, he needed to pitch out sideways. Ultimately, he would take another bogey to fall three behind with one to play just as Idoki was signing his card for a 6-under 65.
On the 18th hole, Perry holed a 50-foot putt for birdie to close out a final-round, 1-over-par 72. Under any other circumstance, he probably would have been thrilled to see the putt drop. That wasn't the case, however.
"That didn't mean anything," he said. "No. I mean I was just trying to get out of the way, get done and move on."
There will be plenty more major tries on the Champions Tour for the 52-year-old Perry. But, for a little while anyway, this one is going to sting a bit.
"It was a great tournament," said Perry, with a body language that suggested he was still trying to fathom what the heck had just happened. "PGA of America [events] are the ones I covet the most, because I'm a golf course owner, I love the men and women who really make golf what it is today. They do all the groundwork, they promote the game of golf. Of all the ones I could have won, the PGA Senior, regular tour, this tour, that would be the one I would covet the most."
Perry will have more chances going forward, but until the next one, this is another major that just slipped away.
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