Perry prevails as Super Bowl upstages FBR finale

By Bill Huffman
      In the end, Super Bowl XLIII coupled with possibly a sluggish economy did a number on the FBR Open.
     Crowds were down 10 to 20 percent every day at the TPC Scottsdale, and especially Sunday when Kenny Perry emerged from a three-hole playoff over Charley Hoffman. Only a polite group of, maybe, 20,000 — paltry and way too quiet by FBR Open standards — hung around to the very end to witness the 48-year-old Perry becoming the oldest champ in the 74 years of the tournament.
      For the week, an estimated 470,294 fans turned out for what was possibly the best weather (mid-70s each day) in recent memory. That was the smallest weekly total since 2001.
      More striking, Sunday’s estimated attendance was a generous 60,425 fans, the fewest since 1997. And that was a little surprising since organizers had offered free admittance to anyone wearing Cardinals gear.
      But more than half of those attendees on Sunday were long gone and at Super Bowl parties throughout the Valley when Perry finally put Hoffman away with a 22-foot birdie. By then the Pittsburgh Steelers had already scored.
      Unfortunately, Hoffman vs. Perry struggled on and on for an extra hour, with neither player particularly sharp. Kevin Na had a chance to make it a three-way shootout, but missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
      There were others, like rookie James Nitties and proven winner David Toms, who had golden opportunities to catch Perry but couldn’t post a number. Even though Perry could do no better than 2-under-par 69, the old guy’s winning total of 14-under was good enough for his 13th PGA Tour win.
     “The greens were crusty and fast. They were hard to make putts on and it was hard to get shots close to the hole,’’ said Hoffman in an apparent attempt to explain why nobody could go low on a day that featured perfect conditions for scoring on a course that usually gives up some seriously low numbers.
   “(Perry) did what he needed to do to win. He’s a great player.’’
    Yes, Perry kept plodding, pounding out 13 pars before making a mess of the final hole with a bogey and letting Hoffman back in it. Both players hacked it up on the first playoff hole (No. 18) with bogeys, and then Hoffman let Perry off the hook by missing a 13-foot birdie at the second playoff hole (No. 10).
      In the end (which came at 17th hole), experience trumped youth, as Perry recorded his 10th win since turning 40. To show how the money has inflated, Perry’s winning check of $1,080,000 was more money than he had won in 21 previous FBR Opens ($1,039,898).
       “To me this is a place where I always felt like I could win. I didn’t putt well but I hit it good enough to do well, and I kept thinking this might be a special day,’’ said Perry, who holds the dubious distinction of having the lowest total score ever on the wild-and-wacky 16th hole – now dubbed “The Coliseum’’ by TV  — at 13-under in 74 encounters.
      Perry didn’t seem to mind one bit that most fans had left the TPC by the time he ended it all around 4:30 p.m. — 15 minutes after the Super Bowl had kicked off. But he did notice that No. 16 was pretty tame for what now is being billed as a lion’s den.
     “It was dead today,’’ Perry observed. “Everybody was watching the Super Bowl.
    Who knows? Maybe people just got tired of “par’’ golf. Perry himself said he was a little surprised at the lack of drama.
      “I wasn’t moving. Nobody was moving,’’ said Perry, who took a two-stroke lead at 12-under into the final round and made it hold up. “There were so many guys within two or three strokes of me, and I knew it was going to be tight.’’
      But Perry just kept “keeping on keeping on,’’ and that proved to be enough to replace Julius Boros in the record books as the oldest champ ever. Boros was 46 when he beat Ken Still by a stroke to capture the 1967 Phoenix Open at Arizona Country Club.
      As FBR Opens go, this wasn’t thrilling or memorable. But given the cast of characters at the end, which didn’t include such marquee names as Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim and Camlio Villegas (who all missed the cut), Perry was a better story than most.
      The cold, hard reality: Most Arizona fans really didn’t give a hoot or a holler about the winner of the FBR Open on this given day, especially after the Cardinals broke their hearts in Super Bowl XLIII.

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.