Purdy, crowd top FBR\‘s endless possibilities

     The leader board for today’s final round of the FBR Open is loaded with possibilities, a solid group of proven PGA Tour winners that starts with 48-year-old veteran Kenny Perry.
     The Kentucky-bred Perry, who has defied his age by winning six times since he turned 40, snared the top spot Saturday with two birdies on his final two holes at the TPC Scottsdale. Being out front has been a familiar theme for K.P., who last year had career-bests in wins (three) and money ($4.66 million).
     At the same time, chances are great that Perry, who is at 12-under-par 201 after a 66, will only be as good as his last 18 holes. That’s because each day of this wild-and-crazy tournament there has been a new hot hand.
     Now it comes down to who gets dealt the winner and the challengers with PGA Tour wins are many: Brian Gay and Charley Hoffman are both at 10 under; Geoff Ogilvy, David Toms, Matt Kuchar and Ted Purdy are all at 9 under; and Rocco Mediate, Zach Johnson and Nick Watney at 8 under.
     Actually, the closest player in pursuit is rookie Scott Piercy, who is 11 under after blowing a four-shot lead. Piercy looked like he might run away and hide – he was 14 under through 13 holes – before three bogeys brought him back to Earth.
     Beyond 8 under would be a reach. Certainly the crowd favorite will be Purdy, a born-and-bred Phoenician who played for Brophy Prep and the University of Arizona, and thrilled the rowdies at the notorious 16th hole – “The Coliseum’’ – when he nearly made a hole-in-one Saturday.
      Being a local, Purdy is well aware of Tiger Woods’ "modern shot heard ’round the world” that rocked the TPC in 1997. That’s why he got a little carried when his “hard’’ sand wedge from 123 yards at the 16th — the shortest yardage the hole has ever been played — just missed the cup for an ace.
       “I wish it would have gone in,’’ said Purdy, who waved an Arizona Cardinals banner from the tee there to the green, then tapped in from 9 inches as the crowd never stopped roaring.
      “I remember Tiger said you have to be focused when you play that (16th) hole, and that’s all I was thinking: stay focused,’’ said Purdy of his moment in the sun. “Seriously, that would have been the highlight of my career.’’
     Purdy, whose only win came at the 2005 Byron Nelson,  was just overly excited with the shot, because obviously winning the Nelson was a bigger deal. But he was very serious when he said he’ll be wearing Cardinals red today.
      Outside of who wins this thing, the biggest question that remains unanswered might be how many people will turn out today at the TPC to watch the final round. With the Cardinals playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, the interest in who wins the FBR’s $1,080,000 first prize might wane noticeably.
    Kickoff for the Super Bowl is set for 4:15 p.m., while the FBR should end sometime around 3:30 p.m., provided there is no playoff. If it does go extra holes, as it did last year when J.B. Holmes beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff, chances are there won’t be many in attendance to watch the sudden death.
     That Mickelson and Holmes, as well as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, missed the cut also does not bode well for building a crowd. After all, the TPC Scottsdale is the “House that Phil built,’’ and his absence along with rising stars Kim and Villegas most probably will impact the gate in a negative way.
    What the FBR has going for it is the Thunderbirds announced that anyone wearing Cardinals apparel will get in free today. Hey, the T-Birds are no dummies, and if you can’t beat the NFL, why not join ’em, right?
    It might be a huge challenge, as crowds for the Open have been down 10 to 20 percent every day this week compared to a year ago, when a record crowd of 538,356 fans stormed the TPC for the week. It must be noted that those big numbers in ’08 came on Thursday, Friday and Saturday – all single-day tournament attendance records — while Sunday’s crowd actually declined from the prior year by over 20,000 fans — the lowest total (71,805) in the past six years.
    The reason, of course, was the Super Bowl was hosted right here at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Chances are that Super Bowl factor will once again hold the numbers down, and most of the Valley won’t be around to see their very own Ted Purdy as he goes . . . ALL . . . THE  . . . WAY!
 Bill Huffman has covered golf in Arizona for over 20 years for the Arizona Republic and East Valley Tribune as well as writing the book Arizona’s Greatest Golf Courses. He co-hosts Backspin the Golf Show on XTRA Sports 910 AM each Wednesday (6-7pm) and Saturday (9-11am).  To reach Bill directly please email him at [email protected] or call 480-540-1780.