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Kenny Perry poised in face of defeat at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The results of a championship are on the scoreboard for all the world to see.

The impact on a life is harder to measure. And so you wonder about Kenny Perry as he stands in the glare of television lights and in the path of a million questions after falling inches short of winning the Masters.

You wonder if his elderly parents will ever come close to this kind of moment again. His 85-year-old father stayed home in Franklin, Ky., and watched on television over the weekend because Perry's mother is bedridden with cancer.

You wonder if it was just the disappointment talking when he said it takes a great player to win a great tournament and that he has blown the two best chances of his career.

You wonder, as you watch Perry's son-in-law sob in the back of the interview room, why karma can be so infuriatingly stingy when it comes to the most kind-hearted among our athletes.

You wonder how a man keeps moving forward when his heart is breaking one step at a time.

"He's being genuine when he says he can take a lot of positives out of this, but he's hurting," his wife, Sandy, said outside the interview room. "Of course he's hurting. How can you not? You'd be crazy to think it didn't hurt."

This final round of the Masters on Sunday was something to behold. It was a daylong drama that was far better than anything we had seen at Augusta National in recent years.

It was Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson charging up the leaderboard. It was four golfers within a stroke of the lead on the back nine. It was a three-man playoff, and it was Angel Cabrera winning his second major.

But, mostly, it was Perry blowing another shot at a major.

Two holes to go, and a two-stroke lead. You might as well staple it to his lapel. It had taken Perry a lifetime to reach this point and about 45 minutes to see it all fall apart.

After 22 consecutive holes without bogey, Perry needed an extra shot to survive No. 17. Then he bogeyed again on No. 18. By the time he collapsed on the second hole of the playoff, the end seemed inevitable.

"I'm not going to feel sorry," Perry said. "If this is the worst thing that happens to me, I can live with it. I really can."

He should know because he has lived through it before. When he was a younger man, Perry had a blistering final round at the 1996 PGA Championship and had a two-stroke lead when he came to No. 18. Perry bogeyed that hole, too, then sat in the CBS booth watching as Mark Brooks got a birdie for the tie. Perry went in the rough on the first playoff hole, and it was over.

"I've got two to think about now," he said Sunday.

The thing is, Perry seemed above it all this time around. At 48, he seemed to be playing on borrowed time.

The greatest golfers of this generation were chasing, threatening, pressuring Perry. And for 16 holes, the man never bowed. He heard the roars from across the golf course, and he saw the scores of Mickelson and Woods being posted on the giant boards. Chad Campbell was up and down. Cabrera was all over the place. And still, Perry kept his cool.

"I was there. I thought I was going to win," Perry said. "I had no negative thoughts in my mind."

Maybe the remorse had yet to kick in, but Perry said he did not feel as if he had played poorly on the final two holes of regulation. He missed his approach shot on both holes and failed to recover either time. His chip on No. 17 was hit too hard and rolled off the green, and his par putt on No. 18 missed the cup by inches.

Perry had another chance to win on the first playoff hole, but his chip shot for birdie stopped about 3 inches from the cup.

"In the past, I've never felt good. I always felt I was average," Perry said. "Today, I felt I was good enough to win."

And that is why this loss will have a greater impact on his life. He is not a greedy man. Perry did not need the $1.35 million paycheck, and he did not need the honor of being the oldest man to win a major.

It was not so much that his life would change but rather the way others would measure it. With one stroke less, Perry would have gone from a solid but forgettable player to someone who had pulled off the impossible.

"Your heart just aches for him," Sandy said. "The kids are pretty upset right now."

By now, the sun had set, and darkness was taking over. Soon the day would be finished for everyone except the man we all had come to watch. For him, this day will never end.

For Kenny Perry, this one will go on forever.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Kenny Perry poised in face of defeat at Masters 04/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 1:57pm]
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