Veteran figures out how to play exceptionally challenging course
For years Kenny Perry had a difficult time deciphering just how he should try to play the championship course at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club. The first seven times he entered the tournament Perry made the cut six times, but he finished no better than a tie for 32nd in 1991.
"I'd say it's optically challenging," Perry says of the par-72 layout Palmer has tweaked over the years and now measures 7,267 yards. "It's got water everywhere and it's intimidating. I've never really had much success there until the last few years, and, why, I don't know. And last year, well, I guess it was just my time."
Indeed. In the 2005 Bay Hill Invitational presented by MasterCard, Perry's time certainly arrived. His closing 70 gave him a 12-under-par 276 total and two-stroke victory over Vijay Singh and Graeme McDowell. Perry survived a late charge by Singh, who made up three strokes on Perry coming to the famed par-four 18th hole. But Singh fanned a seven iron off the rocks and into the water in front of the green at the home hole for a double bogey, and Perry converted a routine two-putt par to capture his eighth PGA Tour title. At age 44 he became the oldest Bay Hill winner.
Both Singh and McDowell earned consolation prizes. Singh rose to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking again, passing Tiger Woods with the runner-up finish. McDowell, of Northern Ireland, shot a flawless 66 to tie Singh for second place and earn a berth in the Masters.
Perry, who has finished in the top 25 each of his last four starts at Bay Hill, including runner-up in 2003, earned the respect of the tournament host, who in December wrote him a congratulatory note that Perry intends to have framed.
"Arnold wrote me a nice letter at Christmastime, congratulating me and the rest of the guys on the Presidents Cup (which the U.S. won)," Perry said. "He also wrote that he was glad that I was his champion and was looking forward to seeing me."
Though many might remember Singh's error down the stretch, Perry's play was exceptional all week, and he certainly earned the victory. He ranked fourth in both driving distance and accuracy and led the field in greens in regulation with a 79.2 percent average. His putting was steady enough to convert 17 birdies, third most in the field. "I drove it great that week – split every fairway. I knew I wasn't going to miss a fairway," Perry said. "And I kept flagging it from the fairways, and I made some nice putts.
"It was a special win, but, then, they're all special," Perry added. "I love being the champion of Colonial. That's a special place for me, too, with Ben Hogan, and his mystique, hanging around that area. And I've got Jack Nicklaus' title at Muirfield Village. So it's pretty neat the titles I've won, and the great men that I get to honor. Still, Arnie is the King. It's neat to be his champion."
It's considerably more rewarding given that it was a long time coming – but Perry said he's far from finished. "I'm hanging in there pretty good for an old guy. I'm definitely looking forward to playing well there again – now that I've got the hang of things."
For tickets to the 2006 Bay Hill Invitational presented by MasterCard, or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.bayhillinvitational.com, or call the Bay Hill ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women.