Perry coasts to victory despite 61 by Leonard

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The Independent Online

Not even a near-perfect round by Justin Leonard could challenge Kenny Perry on the last day of the Colonial here yesterday.

Leonard tied Perry's course record with a closing nine-under-par 61, missing a chance for golf history with his only bogey at the 18th hole, and finished at 13 under. He was still six strokes behind Perry, who had a closing 68. Perry's 19-under-par total broke the tournament record of 16 under held by 1993 winner, Fulton Allem. He was already a stroke under the record after his 61 on Saturday gave him an eight-stroke lead.

Perry's victory provided an anticlimactic ending to an event, which began on a historic note on Thursday when Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in 58 years to play on the PGA Tour. She missed the cut, and the only drama during the final round involved Leonard. At eight under for the day after his four-foot birdie at the 178-yard 13th hole, he could have become the fourth person to shoot 59 in a PGA Tour event. The last was David Duval at the Bob Hope Classic in 1999. But his nine-iron came up short of the green 65 feet from the flag, and he pitched 10 feet past. His par putt for a 60 just slid past the hole.

It was only the fifth win for Perry in 17 years on the tour, the first since the 2001 Buick Open. Jeff Sluman (65) finished third behind Leonard at 12 under, a stroke better than Brandt Jobe (64).

Perry took a share of the lead with a second-round 64, but was largely overlooked because attention was then concentrated on Sorenstam. He followed Saturday with his career-low round that included three near-misses with birdie putts.

Nearly an inch of rain fell overnight on the 7,080-yard course already soaked by two days of steady rain earlier in the week. With players allowed to lift, clean and place balls that found the fairways before hitting at soft and receptive greens, there were a lot of low scores. Colonial played its full length, but never showed its true bite during a week when the greens never firmed up and the usually breezy conditions were absent. Only three players had shot 61s in the previous 56 Colonials.

An eagle out of the bunker at the 565-yard first hole started Leonard's round. He reached the turn in 29 when his approach at the 402-yard ninth spun back and settled an inch from the hole. After making a 10-foot birdie at the 430-yard 15th to reach nine under for the day, Leonard's tee shot at the 188-yard 16th found a greenside bunker. He saved par and then set up his shot at history with a 12-foot birdie at the 17th.

Perry played steady through his final round. He was bogey-free until missing a five-foot par putt at 16, but still led by six strokes.

* Scotland's Catriona Matthew, the leader after three rounds, had to settle for third place in the LPGA Corning Classic in New York yesterday after a last-hole bogey gave her a 70 for 269. Juli Inkster added to her impressive résumé with her 29th career victory after posting the lowest final-round score in LPGA history, a course-record 10-under-par 62 at Corning Country Club.