Champions in Kentucky have to hold up down the stretch. That’s true at Churchill Downs in the Derby. And it was true in the PGA Championship.
Mark Brooks felt the sting of the whip when he realized on the 17th hole he had a chance to win. And he responded like a true thoroughbred, making a birdie on the last hole to force a sudden-death playoff with Kenny Perry.
Then he proved he had two stretch runs in him when he birdied No. 18 for a second time in 20 minutes to win his first major championship and third tournament of the year.
Perry, meanwhile, spit the bit - bogeying No. 18 twice to give away a tournament he seemed to have locked up.
“I felt really lucky to stand on the 17th tee and know I still had an opportunity,” Brooks said. “My caddie informed me that 11 under was then leading and I guess it gave me a little bit of life. I hit my two best drives of the week in regulation and in the playoff” on No. 18.
And Perry hit two of his worst, both times hooking into the rough and hacking the ball around enough times to make a 6.
For the second consecutive year, the PGA Championship was decided in a playoff - last year Steve Elkington defeating Colin Montgomerie on the first extra hole.
This time it was a gift from Perry - a Kentucky native - to Brooks, the Texas visitor who never would have made the playoff if Perry hadn’t bogeyed No. 18 in regulation.
The talk all week was about the great finishing hole at Valhalla Golf Club. And No. 18 was absolutely perfect for Brooks - who birdied it four times in five tries, including the playoff - and complete misery for Perry.
“It’s a tough way to end the day when you’ve played so well,” Perry said. “I had that putt to win,” he said about the 8-footer he missed on the final hole of regulation. “I played it too high. I had a fabulous round for 17 holes.”
Unfortunately for Perry, there was an 18th hole. His failure there gave Brooks a chance and he made the most of it.
“It was just a week of comebacks,” Brooks said after he rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt in sudden-death. “I was over par every day and came back. The end was just kind of a fairytale.”
As his final putt fell Brooks thrust his hand in the air, accepted congratulations from Perry and hugged his wife and children. Then he took the champion’s trophy, stared at it admiringly as he held it over his head and brought it down for a gentle kiss.
“It was kind of a week of streaks for me,” said Brooks, who made six birdies in a row Thursday, four in a row Friday and three in a row Sunday.
He shot a solid 70 in the final round to finish at 11-under-par 277 while Perry leaped past such big names as Greg Norman, Steve Elkington, Nick Price and Phil Mickelson with a 68 to get to 277.
By winning, Brooks joined golf legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson as Fort Worth, Texas, golfers who have won the PGA. And his victory meant that the last 16 major championships have been won by 15 different people.
All week, players said No. 18 offered the opportunity for an eagle or a bogey and was a hole where there could be a big swing. It was a prophetic observation.
The 540-yard hole that winds around a lake to a horseshoe-shaped green guarded by a massive bunker in front and deadly rough behind betrayed Elkington and Vijay Singh, as well as Perry.
They both came to it needing a birdie to make the playoff. But Singh bogeyed to finish at 279 along with Justin Leonard and Jesper Parnevik.
And Elkington failed to make a 15-foot birdie putt and missed the playoff by one stroke at 278, along with Tommy Tolles, who finished more than an hour before Brooks with a 67.
Perry, who is from Franklin, Ky., just 120 miles from Valhalla, was carried along by a wildly supportive gallery.
When he walked off the 14th green following a 15-foot birdie putt to get to 12-under, his name sat alone on top of the leaderboard. And when he strode up the 18th fairway on his way to a shaky bogey, he was carried along by wild, whooping shouts from the home folks, responding with a wave of his hat and a shy, satisfied smile.
When he missed the 12-foot par putt that would have given him a more comfortable cushion he waved his hat again and walked an aisle of high-fives from delirious fans as he trudged off to sign his scorecard. But it was way too early to celebrate and Perry knew it.
Perry, however, walked away from his disappointing finish with his head high.
“This was a great experience for me,” he said. “I’ve never been in this situation before. I hate that I lost it for myself and for the fans of Kentucky who were rooting so hard for me this week. But this is good for my career. It’ll help me down the road. I learned a good lesson, but it’s a hard one.”
Perry played the round of his life - except for No. 18. In regulation, he hit a wild hook off the tee into the rough, couldn’t get back to the fairway with his second shot, missed the green left and bumped the ball to within 12 feet, missing that to make bogey.
“I was so nervous, so pumped up,” Perry said. “I just overswung. I played so well all day.
Brooks dominated No. 18 all week, making four birdies in five tries.
In regulation, he drove to the fairway and hit a 4-wood from 220 yards into the bunker in front of the green, probably the best place to miss the green.
He played a perfect explosion shot to 5 feet and rolled it in to force the playoff.
It capped a up-and-down round for Brooks who made four bogeys - three in a four-hole stretch from No. 11 through No. 14, to fall to 9-under, where he started the day, and three strokes back.
But he hung in there and birdied No. 15 and then got the big birdie at 18.
Brooks hit first in the playoff and drove perfectly to the fairway. Perry hooked again - just like the last time he played No. 18 - bounced twice in the fairway and skidded into the rough.
Brooks hit the green with a 4-wood, but Perry had a terrible lie and had no chance to go for the green. The best he could hope for was to advance his ball and get back in the fairway.
But he failed even to do that, staying in the rough, and when he missed the green with his next shot, all Brooks need to do was make certain he got his ball over the dangerous hump and near the cup.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LEADERBOARD Final results of the PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky.: x-Mark Brooks 68-70-69-70-277 Kenny Perry 66-72-71-68-277 Tommy Tolles 69-71-71-67-278 Steve Elkington 67-74-67-70-278 Justin Leonard 71-66-72-70-279 Jesper Parnevik 73-67-69-70-279 Vijay Singh 69-69-69-72-279 x-won in playoff
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