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Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry hasn't missed a cut this season, and has racked up a pair of wins. (Heathcote/Getty Images)

Perry's back in the Open, this time as one of the favorites

Kenny Perry caught some flack for skipping the Open last year to focus on the Ryder Cup. He's eager to tee it up at Turnbery, though, because, even at 48, he believes he's got the game to win.

By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer

TURNBERRY, Scotland -- On paper, one would think that 48-year-old Kenny Perry is on the back nine of his PGA TOUR career. But to watch the Kentuckian play and to see his results are a different matter.

Call him a late bloomer, if you’d like, but don’t call him old.

Old guys don’t rise to a No. 4 ranking in the world, while racking up five victories in a 13-month period. Old guys aren’t supposed to keep up with the young guys -- but in Perry’s case it’s the young guys that are trying to keep up with him.

“I think it gives a lot of guys hope, for one thing,” Perry said. “Here I am turning 49 next month and fourth in the world. I guess I'll probably still be there next month when my age comes around. Not too many can say they're 49 and fourth in the world. It's an honor. It's pretty neat. It's just taken me a long time to get there.

“I wish I was in my mid 20s now and was fourth in the world, because my mentality, I've changed so much in 20 years out there. I think this is my 24th year on TOUR,” he added. “It's just taken me a long time to figure it out, to be comfortable, relaxed, enjoy the people and the crowds and the traveling.  It's just taken me a long time to get to where I really enjoy the game again.”

At the start of the 2008 season, Perry had one goal and one goal alone -- earn a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team for the biennial matches that would be played at Valhalla in his home state.

The only memory Kentucky had of Perry, he said, was the time he lost in a playoff at Valhalla to Mark Brooks at the 1996 PGA Championship. He wanted to reprogram the way his natives remembered his legacy. That, in Perry’s mind, was to be a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and help the Americans to victory.

Everything worked out beautifully. However, Perry wasn’t without his detractors while it was all unfolding -- especially those in Europe. See, in order to make it on the U.S. team, Perry figured his best shot was to play in events where he’d had past success. One of those tournaments was the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, which is played the same week as the Open Championship.

With three wins in five starts in June and July of ‘08, Perry was a virtual lock to make the Ryder Cup squad and also became eligible for the Open Championship. However, rather than travel to Royal Birkdale, he honored his commitment to play in Milwaukee, leading many to wonder: Why would someone playing as well as Perry not take a crack at winning a major he’s eligible for?

“I think people just didn't understand,” Perry said after a practice round at Turnberry on Tuesday. “That story was … you know, the Ryder Cup was at Valhalla, it was in my home state of Kentucky where I lost the PGA Championship in '96 to Mark Brooks. To me personally, the people in Kentucky and my home state, that's what they remembered me for. And my goal was to get back there and be an effective player to where my home thought of me differently as a player.”

Perry didn’t feel bad then and doesn’t feel bad now about the decisions he made to accomplish his goal. He does, however, hope that the critics have done their homework and understand why.

“They need to understand, if the Ryder Cup would have been somewhere else [other than his home state], I would probably have come over here,” he said. “But being in my home state, it really kind of changed my focus and desire, what I wanted at that point in time in my life. I figure, here I am 48 years old, that was my last opportunity probably to play in a Ryder Cup, plus being in my home state in front of my home folks, it was just a big opportunity to me. And that's the reason why I didn't come over here last year.”

He’s here this year and it could also be argued that he’s one of the pre-tournament favorites. Perry hasn’t missed a cut this season and has seven top-10 finishes -- the wins at the FBR Open and Travelers Championship and a tie for second in a playoff loss at the Masters among them.

The playoff loss at the Masters was a tough pill for Perry to swallow. He had a two-shot lead with two holes to play, but bogeyed the last two holes to fall into a playoff with Chad Campbell and eventual champ Angel Cabrera, which Perry lost on the second hole.

“I got too big a lead too fast there at the very end,” Perry said. “Instead of playing aggressive like I'd been playing all week, I got kind of conservative on the last two holes and it cost me. It was a good lesson.”

It was no doubt a lesson learned, as he won in Hartford just six starts later.

“Instead of playing safe at Hartford, I birdied two of the last four coming in to win the tournament,” he said.

This week marks Perry’s sixth appearance in an Open Championship. He’s missed the cut twice, but finished in the top 16 on the previous three occasions, highlighted by a tie for eighth in 2003.

He may be getting older and the chances of winning a major might be fading, but there’s no denying that Perry has never been more ready to win one of the big four.

“I always thought I could win a major,” he said. “I've got the game to win one; I just haven't seemed to perform very well when I've gotten to them. But all that last year, the winning the three times and then twice this year, and almost winning the Masters, I've had a great year and a half.

“Things are going awesome for me,” he added. “It's kind of given me a little more confidence to feel like when I come into one I'm thinking more about winning than just surviving.”
 

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