A victory walk for Kenny Perry seemed so unlikely Friday when he was trudging up the 18th fairway, his game in knots.
The new U.S. Senior Open champion made that trek again Sunday at Omaha Country Club, this time smiling and with the title in hand. He won by five strokes, going 13-under par on the weekend, after trailing by 10 to start the weekend.
“it felt like I was at a British Open with those huge grandstands full of people applauding me all the way up. Just a wonderful feeling,'' Perry said. “The people here were amazing, and that gallery was outstanding out there. Omaha should be proud.
“You don't get many walks up the last hole with a big lead knowing you've won, and everybody's cheering for you. That's just a special moment in golf.”
Perry, 52, who won five of his 14 PGA Tour titles after turning 47, won his second senior major in as many starts. He was the champion two weeks ago at the Senior Players Championship in Pittsburgh.
Sunday's title, however, tops it.
“It's probably my greatest win,'' Perry said. “When you win your national open, I mean, that's what we all strive for. I really wanted to win the Masters and the PGA and a U.S. Open on our regular tour, but I couldn't make it happen.
“Now to finally have a national title to my name to be recognized with, yeah, I'm very proud of that trophy.”
His name will be engraved on the Francis Ouimet Trophy as the 34th Senior Open champion after rounds of 64 on Saturday and 63 on Sunday when 34,354 were on the club grounds — the most spectators ever in one day at an Omaha sporting event.
Perry's 63 tied the course record and tournament low. He birdied nine of the first 15 holes Sunday, against two bogeys, before cruising to the clubhouse with three pars to finish at 13 under. Fred Funk, the 2009 champion who was the Senior Open runner-up for the third time, finished at 8 under following a 68.
“Kenny just played phenomenal,'' Funk said. “He did the same thing he did two weeks ago, where he just lit it up on the weekend. I played with him the first two days at (Pittsburgh), and through 30 holes, he wasn't doing anything. All of a sudden, he just went crazy.
“He's just playing so good. He has so much power, and he drives it incredibly straight for as far as he hits it. And he makes even the long holes out here chip-and-putt. So it's tough to beat a guy when he's on, when he's driving it that good.”
Perry was first at the Senior Open in driving distance (300.5 yards) and tied for first in putts (28.25 a round). He was tied for 55th in fairways hit.
“Even though I hit it in the rough, I was still able to manage the shots out of the rough and keep them on the green,'' he said. “Instead of slashing at it from 160 yards, I was up there at 100 to 110 yards, and it made a huge difference. Length was a huge factor this week.”
A birdie 4 from the right greenside bunker on the par-5 sixth gave Perry the lead for good at 8 under. Then he birdied the next three holes with putts between eight and 10 feet.
“That was a lot of fun, to be able to make those four, because eight and nine are tough holes, and seven's not easy, either,” he said. “So I birdied three hard holes right there.”
On the back nine, he started par-birdie-bogey and stood 11 under. When Rocco Mediate, who tied for third with Corey Pavin at 7 under, birdied the 15th to get to 9 under, Perry's lead was down to two strokes.
“Shoot, yeah,'' the Kentuckian said. “I was like, 'Uh oh, we got to keep going. We've got to put the hammer down here and work on out.'
“So it didn't make me nervous. It actually made me press on. I wanted a five-shot lead coming down the last hole. I kept telling myself, 'Let's push it on out there. You can do it.' ”
He birdied the 14th and 15th following close approach shots. Game over.
Perry tied the 63 shot in the second round by Michael Allen, who had led after each of the first three rounds only to shoot 72 Sunday to take fifth at 6 under.
Allen, like Funk, had played the first two rounds at the Senior Players with Perry.
“I joked about him on 18. Really, what does the first two rounds matter?'' Allen said. “he didn't do well in the first round or two in Pittsburgh. It wasn't until the middle of the second round he started going, and he shoots 19 under in 2 1/2 rounds.
“But that's how good he can putt. When he putts great, he's one of the best putters in the world.”
Perry will be the first to say he's a streaky player.
“Like I can win multiple times in a hurry, and then I disappear for a year or six months or whatever, and then I show back up again,'' he said. “So I'm just on a hot streak.
“I played great at Fox Chapel (Pittsburgh) and here, and I had a chance to win the Senior PGA. I was three up with six to play there and let that one get away. But that one kind of fired me up more. It actually motivated me, and I think that's what helped me to win Fox Chapel and to win here.”
Perry won't try to make it three majors in a row by playing in the Senior British Open in two weeks at Royal Birkdale.
“I'm staying home. I've been on the road for nine weeks,'' he said. “I played eight out of the last nine weeks, and I'm tired. I'm going home to celebrate.”