OMAHA, Neb. – Two things that Kenny Perry loves are fast cars and fast greens.
On Sunday at Omaha Country Club, he got the fast greens, and given those conditions, he zoomed past the field at the 34th U.S. Senior Open like he was in a Ferrari.
He appears to have found a fifth gear the past three weeks.
Perry, 52, of Franklin, Ky., carded a 7-under-par 63 – matching the week’s low round and one off the championship record – on the 6,657-yard layout to complete a five-stroke victory over Fred Funk.
His 127 total over the final two rounds shattered the U.S. Open record by three strokes, and it was the second time in three weeks that Perry had posted 127 on a weekend to claim a senior major championship. Two weeks ago, Perry had rounds of 63-64 to win the Senior Players Championship outside Pittsburgh. He is now the third golfer in Champions Tour history to win the Senior Players and U.S. Senior Open in the same year, joining Gary Player (1987) and Orville Moody (1989).
His 10-stroke comeback over the final 36 holes also is the greatest in Senior Open history.
“That was probably the greatest closing round I've ever had, meaning the ease of it,” said Perry, who plans to take a new General Motors COPO Camaro out on the racetrack near his home next week. “The score was easy. The shots were easy. I didn't have any stress.
“I've always putted great on super, super fast greens. Muirfield [Village] is always 14 [feet] or whatever [on the Stimpmeter]. I just like to be able to let the ball lead off the face instead of having to hit the ball. And I felt very comfortable on the greens today.”
Perry’s 267 total (13 under) matched Irwin for the lowest 72-hole score in Senior Open history. It’s also the sixth time in the last 10 Senior Opens that the champion finished double-digits under par.
“He gets on these crazy runs,” said Rocco Mediate, who finished tied for third with Corey Pavin at 7-under 273. “He did it on the [PGA] Tour. Now he's doing it here. It's amazing. He doesn't back off. He's a great champion. He should win one of these, as good as he plays.”
How good was Perry? He started the day two strokes behind 54-hole leader Michael Allen, who shot a 2-over 72 to finish fifth at 274, and raced right by him – and anyone else trying to catch him – by shooting 5-under 30 on the outward nine. During one stretch, he birdied five holes in a six-hole stretch from No. 6 to reach 12 under.
He did bogey the 12th hole, but recovered by stuffing his third shot to the par-5 14th to a foot for a tap-in birdie. And for good measure, he tallied another easy birdie on the 15th hole. He finished the championship ranked No. 1 in birdies (22), total putts (113) and driving distance (300.5 yards).
“I played flawless out there,” said Perry.
His pursuers would agree. Mediate, Pavin and Funk shot 66, 67 and 68, respectively, and it was as if they were running in quicksand. Perry was simply too strong and too good to catch.
“When he gets going, he's really tough to catch,” said Pavin, who made five consecutive birdies from No. 8. “He's powerful, hits it a long way and makes a lot of putts when he gets it going. [When] he shoots scores like he's shooting now, it's pretty tough to keep up with him.”
During his PGA Tour career, Perry came close to winning majors twice, losing heartbreaking playoffs at the PGA Championship (1996 to Mark Brooks) and the Masters (2009 to Angel Cabrera). He also tied for third at the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Perry, in fact, has been trying to win USGA championships since his first U.S. Open appearance 25 years ago at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.
But not until he turned 40 did Perry begin to show his potential. Eleven of his 14 PGA Tour victories came after age 40 and now he owns four wins on the 50-and-over circuit, including the two majors. The Senior Open might have been his third senior major of 2013 had he not blown a late lead at the Senior PGA Championship earlier this year at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.
“It's probably my greatest win,” said Perry of his Senior Open triumph. “When you win your National [Senior] 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 [the PGA] Tour, but I couldn't make it happen. Now to finally have a national title to my name … I'm very proud of that trophy. I think it's probably the greatest trophy I've won.”
Funk knows about clutching the Francis Ouimet Trophy. He won it in 2009 at Crooked Stick and now has finished second three times. The 57-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was within striking distance on the first nine, but never got closer after Perry went on his birdie barrage midway through the round.
Ditto for Mediate, the 2008 U.S. Open runner-up who was competing in his first Senior Open. An eagle at the par-5 sixth moved him to within two strokes of the lead, but like Funk, he couldn’t keep up the fast pace being set by Perry.
“Kenny just played phenomenal,” said Funk. “I played with him the first two days [of the Senior Players Championship] at Fox Chapel, and through 30 holes, he wasn't doing anything. All of a sudden, he just went crazy.”
But don’t look for Perry to go for three consecutive majors in two weeks at the Senior British Open at Royal Birkdale in England. Having played eight of the last nine weeks on either the PGA Tour or Champions Tour, he is planning to take a break from competitive golf. He wants to spend some time with his family and, of course, hit Beech Bend, the drag-racing track 20 miles from his home, with the new vehicle that he expects to pick up on Friday.
It’s a limited-edition Camaro that is not street-legal.
“I’m tired,” he said. “I am going home to celebrate.”
And take a victory lap.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.