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Perry becomes contender for US Open

Prior to the EDS Byron Nelson Championship, any logical list of U.S. Open contenders likely would not have included 42-year-old Kenny Perry.

Now, with the U.S. Open just two weeks away, Perry is not only the hottest player in golf, but a strong contender. Just ask defending Open champion Tiger Woods.

"He is playing well. Beautifully," Woods said. "If my memory serves me correct, the tournaments he has won, he has set tournament records in. And last week was a joke to shoot that at Colonial. You never see scores like that at Colonial, and to do it here back-to-back weeks with the wind blowing as hard as it has, he has put up some pretty good numbers."

The latest came at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Perry, 42, coming off a week in which he won the Bank of America Colonial with a 19-under 261 score, finished at 13-under 275 to win by two shots over Lee Janzen. It was the highest winning Memorial total since Bob Tway won in 1989, but all that matters is that Perry won.

Perry was so in control again this week that he took the lead on Friday and never relinquished it. He led by as many as five strokes on Sunday and not even playing the final six holes in 4-over derailed him.

His Memorial win came 12 years since his first win at Muirfield Village. He earned another cool $900,000, which moved him to No. 5 on the PGA Tour money list with over $2.5 million -- a career best.

In the third round at Colonial, Perry shot a 9-under 61 to build an eight-stroke lead. Saturday at the Memorial, Perry shot a 2-under 70 in rainy, cool temperatures amid gusts of up to 35 miles per hour. To Perry, Saturday's round was just as impressive as the 61.

Sunday, opening with a two-stroke lead. Perry charged with an outward 4-under 32, racking up birdies at the par-4 second and ninth and at both par-5s.

"That front nine was probably the best front nine I played in a long time," he said. "I shot some good rounds last week, but to shoot 32 on that nine through those winds and conditions really set up this victory."

He made par on the first three holes on the back nine on Sunday and then hit the wall. Perry was mentally and physically spent. He held the lead after six of the previous seven rounds.

"I was mentally tired," Perry said. "Physically worn out. I've never been under this much strain for two weeks of just being in [the media room] talking to you guys, just everybody calling me."

Tournament host Jack Nicklaus, who knows a little something about leading tournaments, disagreed.

"You didn't get mentally tired," he told Perry. "You were leading by six shots and did what you had to do coming home and protected the lead because you knew you couldn't lose the golf tournament if you weren't stupid."

The reason for Perry's surge has been quite simple, he said. All he has done is tried to relax in the heat of the shot and slow his swing down. A change in putters at Colonial -- from a TaylorMade Rossa Monsa to an Odyssey Rossie 1 -- also has helped.

"Kenny Perry, other than the last six holes, played near perfect golf," said Janzen, who was in Sunday's final pairing with Perry, "and he is on a roll, too. It's great to watch a guy get on a roll like that and play like there is nothing in the way. That he is just out there playing in his own world."

Over the past two weeks, Perry has hit 76 percent of his fairways and 89 percent of his greens in regulation, and averaged 29.125 putts per round.

Quite honestly, Perry is not all that surprised by the results of his play. He's been around the block a few times, made a very successful living on the PGA Tour.

"Even though I always felt I didn't have the talent these guys had, I always felt I had the heart and soul and guts to play," he said.

"All I want to do is play as good as Kenny Perry can play. If that ranks me up to No. 1, great. But, you know, if I can excel at what I can do that's what matters to me."

And right now, no one is excelling in the game better than Perry.

 

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