BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Shoal Creek is Kenny Perry's kind of golf course, and it showed last year.
Perry returns to the scenic suburban Birmingham course for the Regions Tradition starting Thursday, seeking to defend his championship in the first of the Champions Tour's five majors. For him, the lush trees all along the 7,145-yard, par-72 layout add more than a pleasant view.
''I like a golf course that's tree-lined,'' Perry said. ''It kind of tells you what to do. It's just beautiful. It's just an old course and it sits out there in front of you and says, 'Come get me.'
''There's a lot of risk-reward holes, like No. 11 is a par-5 over water. Eight's a great par-3. I get nervous every time on 8 when I get up there. It kind of reminds me of the 17th at TPC'' in San Antonio.
Perry's 20-foot birdie putt on No. 16 gave him the lead for good in a one-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia last year for his third straight win of a Champions Tour major. His 7-under performance on a course that had been soaked by rain was the highest score by a winner at the Regions Tradition, including even-par starting and closing rounds. It was also just one stroke better than his previous year, when he finished 15th.
The relatively high scores also suit Perry, though rain hasn't been an issue leading up to the tournament this time, leaving firmer, faster greens.
''My short game's never been my strength,'' Perry said. ''It's always been my ball striking that's allowed me to survive on the PGA Tour for 30 years and now out here.
''When I come to a place where 8- to 12-under wins a golf tournament, I like it. I don't like 20-something under winning. I don't like those putting/birdie barrages. That's why I enjoy coming here.''
He battled back pain for the final 12 holes at Houston two weeks ago, hitting the ground after a sharp pain when he bent over to pick up his putter on No. 6.
Perry said he could barely walk the next day, forcing some sessions with his chiropractor. But he said he played 18 holes after arriving at Shoal Creek on Tuesday without any problems.
Ian Woosnam also arrived feeling good about his game. The Welshman delivered a 30-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole with Perry and Tom Lehman to deliver his first Champions Tour win in Houston, leaving his status set on the 50-and-over circuit for at least a calendar year. The Welshman played that tournament on a sponsor's exemption.
Woosnam, the 1991 Masters winner, became the oldest first-time winner on the Champions Tour at 57 years, 2 months and 1 day.
Like Perry, he thinks Shoal Creek ''really suits my game'' with drives and irons play being so important.
Woosnam hadn't played the course since the 1990 PGA Championship before last year's Tradition.
The breakthrough win left a player who by his own admission has had a streaky career in a confident mood believing the ball will go where he wants it to.
''Now, I've got more confidence in knowing where it's going to go and what shape it's going,'' Woosnam said. ''I've always been sort of a player where when I've got the confidence, I do really well. When the confidence is not very good, I don't do too well.
''My game has always gone in sort of sections where I play really well for six months and then I don't play very well and then I play well again. I just have to put up with it, really.''