ST. LOUIS — Kenny Perry has been here before, and been crushed by disappointment. Whatever happens in the final round of the Senior PGA Championship, he plans on leaving with his head held high.
If his two-stroke lead over two-time champion Jay Haas doesn’t hold up Sunday, Perry said, “It’s not going to be the end of the world.”
“I played beautifully for three rounds,” Perry said. “I’m just going to go out there and play like I did, and point and shoot.”
The 52-year-old Perry is close to his first senior major title in a career known more agonizing almosts in the 2009 Masters and 1996 PGA than his 16 total tournament victories and $34 million in winnings. He was at 10 under at Bellerive Country Club, which held up fine after a rain delay of more than two hours before the last twosome of Perry and Russ Cochran teed off.
Perry is the lone player in the field to break 70 all three rounds, capitalizing on booming drives and finesse. On Saturday, he chipped in from about 30 feet from an awkward lie for an eagle on No. 4.
“I couldn’t stand there all day and do that again,” Perry said. “That was a one in a million shot.”
The odds did not help Perry when he faltered and lost in a playoff to Mark Brooks in the PGA. When it happened again in the Masters, it hurt a lot more.
Perry led by two strokes with two holes to go but finished with a pair of bogeys, ending a streak of 22 holes without one. Then he bogeyed the second playoff hole and lost in a playoff to Angel Cabrera.
“That Masters loss put a big dent in my life,” Perry said. “So this right here, this is awesome. I’m just going to try to do my best and hopefully the cards will fall my way this time.”
Perry had the eagle, five birdies and four bogeys in the third round, mixing spectacular shots with some stumbles and doing enough of the right things for a 3-under 68. Though Perry had just one bogey the first two rounds, his closest pursuer sees no weakness.
He has dominated on the three par-5 holes, playing them in 8 under.
“It was nice to stay within a few of Kenny,” Haas said. “It looks like he’s really going to be tough to beat.”
Haas finished with a pair of birdies for a 67. Cochran was three strokes back after rallying for two birdies on the back nine for an even-par 71, and Rod Spittle was four shots back after a 67.
The 59-year-old Haas, who won the championship in 2006 and ‘08, grew up in nearby Belleville, Ill., and is a bit of a local favorite. He shot 66 in the first round to share the lead and credited a telephone tip from coach Billy Harmon about keeping his right shoulder down for helping to steady his game.
“I think I missed maybe one or two fairways and just hit some real quality shots,” Haas said. “So, that was a lot of fun.”
Haas has played Bellerive a couple dozen times, but doesn’t consider it much of an advantage.
“Golf is such a different game than playing at your home court or something with the fans,” Haas said. “I don’t know what it makes a big deal of a difference.”
Perry had a three-stroke lead after the chip for eagle from an awkward lie on No. 4, with both feet in a greenside bunker and the ball on the lip. He was aiming at the gallery and just hoping to get it on the green.
“When I hit it, man, it went straight toward the flag,” Perry said. “And it hit and checked a little bit and rolled right in there like a putt.”
The lead was down to one after he followed up with consecutive bogeys, but he was back up by four over Cochran and Haas after birdies on Nos. 7 and 8, and no one got closer than two strokes on the back nine.
Defending champion Roger Chapman shot 66 for the second time, matching the tournament’s best, and was 1 under. Bernhard Langer shot a bogey-free 67 for the second straight day to climb back to even par for the tourney after opening with a 79.
“I think that the first two rounds you’re a bit under pressure to put in a good defense and probably thinking about just making the cut was the wrong attitude,” Chapman said. “Now I made the cut, the pressure’s off a bit, just go out and play and that’s what I did.”
Spittle shot 69 in the first round after a rocky start, going 3 over par the first three holes.