Ailing Perry guts it out at Tour Championship

Kenny Perry is 8 under at the Tour Championship, despite battling dehydration.

ATLANTA – So just how did Kenny Perry feel during and after an opening-day 72?

“I was sicker than a dog,” he said.

Playing like a canine and feeling like a feverish one sometimes go together. In Perry’s case, he fought dehydration and crooked driving on Thursday. Heat and humidity got to him as he practiced before teeing off. He said the “sauna-like” conditions “smoked” him.

“I wanted to throw up on the first five holes,” Perry said. “I was sweating so much. It was terrible. I’ve never been like that.”

But there’s also a flip side to the golf-health theory. It goes like this: Beware of the ailing golfer, even one who contemplates vomiting.

Considering the 49-year-old Perry blistered East Lake with a 6-under-par 64 Saturday and took a two-stroke lead over Tiger Woods entering the Tour Championship final round, this just might be Case No. 8,170,631 that says never underestimate the sick guy.

“Could be,” Perry said when presented with the thesis. “I mean, I was out of control Thursday. I didn’t know if I was going to finish the round. I thought I was having heat stroke out there. I thought something was really wrong with me. I couldn’t hit it. My arms felt like rubber bands.”

Ken Venturi won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional while battling heat stroke. Perry knows the story and has a comparison.

“I wasn’t quite that bad,” he said, smiling. “He looked like he was going to die.”

But Venturi won. For himself and the theory.

So, at home, never give strokes to a guy who says he’s so thirsty he could drink the pond in front of the third green. Or someone with a temperature, bad back, sore elbow or whiny nature. Unless you don’t care about your wallet.

On Tour, same stuff. Ailments sometimes make you slow down and raise performance while lowering expectations. Tom Lehman shot 268 and won the 1994 Memorial Tournament by five strokes despite running a fever all week.

All Perry wanted after the opening round was all the drinking water in Atlanta. As it happened, his Thursday night nutrition consisted of three bananas, three Powerades and three large bottles of water with amino acids.

That normally is not the meal of champions or what one eats before shooting 66-64 the next two days on a demanding golf course. Though he rehydrated himself, both rounds were still something of Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News” experiences. He still sweated profusely.

“I’m just sweating right now,” he said after the 64.

There’s something else that makes someone in the perspiring arts feel better: Four consecutive birdies to start a round. That’s what Perry did Saturday. He slowed down some after that, sure, but he still birdied half of the first 12 and seven of 15.

“Four birdies in a row puts you in a good mood is all I can say,” Perry said. “It was a very fun round of golf.”

The highlight was a 5-iron to within 7 feet at the 223-yard second. The lone blemish was his miss of a 6-foot par putt at the 209-yard sixth. Other than that, this was a stress-free, dart-throwing experience. He drove beautifully and cleaned up the short birdie opportunities.

Those first four birdies came on putts from 3-8 feet. Other than a 31-footer at No. 12, the longest one he made all day was from just under 11 feet.

That’s not to say his putting isn’t why he’s up top. It is. Had he not scrambled like a Spaniard in the first round, we wouldn’t be talking about Perry right now.

Perry hit but three fairways and nine greens in regulation Thursday. Most people do that and they don’t shoot 72.

He did so because he made eight putts of 5 feet or longer. He saved par every time on Nos. 7-11 on putts in the 5-9 foot range, then saved again from 14 feet at No. 14. For the day he holed 114 feet worth.

“That 72 saved me,” he said. “It was an unbelievable putting round.”

Perry did what all good players do after spraying the driver. He made an adjustment. His was to move the ball back in his stance 3-4 inches. That changed the path of his swing and the direction of the ball; he hit 10 fairways on each of the next two days.

Perry says he likes his chances of winning the tournament if he drives similarly Sunday. But his task won’t be simple even though Perry has won five titles in 2008-09. It’s just that the man he’s paired with is the only one with more; Woods has bagged 10 in the same time.

Perry’s goal is to snag his 15th career victory on the way to his goal of 20. It’s not altogether different from Woods’: Get No. 72 on the way to, say, 130.

It already has been a wonderful week for Perry, profuse sweat aside. He was awarded the Payne Stewart Award for contributions to golf and society early in the week.

Sunday, he has a chance to win the $1.35 million first prize and a $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. He could claim the latter if he wins and – bear with me and the computer – Woods finishes in a three-way tie for third or worse, Steve Stricker (T-7) finishes third or worse and Jim Furyk (T-15) ties for second or worse.

Not that Perry needs the money. But he realizes others do. That’s one reason to root for him.

“I’ll probably end up giving it away more than I’ll keep it,” Perry said of the $11.35 mil. “To me that’s more important. That’s all I want to do. I’ve got everything I need.”

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