If the roars return to the back nine on Sunday as many predict the chorus will begin at the par-4 10th. On Saturday, Kentuckys own gave a glimpse of things to come, slinging his tee shot some 50 yards past fellow pacesetter Chad Campbell and lofting his approach to birdie range on his way to a share of the 54-hole lead at the Masters.
The birdie hoisted Perry to 12 under and sent a wave across the pitched canvass that the man who made family and friends and a home-game Ryder Cup a priority for all those years has turned his focus to about the only thing he didnt seem overly passionate about ' a major.
Not that the road ahead looks anything like a victory lap. Hes blown it before, on that same Valhalla venue at the 1996 PGA Championship that would later define his career, and he has the broadest shoulders south of equator in Angel Cabrera standing between him and a date with a green jacket.
This time, however, the pride of Franklin, Ky., has an edge, and no, its not that new driver that seems to be finding every fairway. This time Perry seems to have a clarity of thought and more confidence than hes ever had in his corner.
Hes also fulfilling that final chapter his father, Ken, has been hounding him about all these years.
Ive had a great career, and Id be very satisfied if it ended today, Perry said. But dad has always said, You need to win a green jacket.
If Tiger Woods father nurtured the prodigy to greatness, Ken Perry needled his boy to perfection. The Perrys always competed and when Ken won, which he usually did, he let his son know it so much that when Kenny Perry finally clipped his old man he celebrated like he had a green jacket draped over his shoulders.
I was 14. I beat him on the golf course, Perry said. You know how I did it? I hit a 4-iron in the hole for a one, he made par. I let him have it.
If hes going to deliver that green jacket to Franklin he first he must slip past Cabrera and a host of world beaters in waiting.
Sundays final two-ball has a combined age of 87, out with the young guns, in with the march of the middle aged.
Perhaps, considering the back-nine bonanza many expect in the final round, Saturdays goal was to do no harm. On Friday, when Anthony Kim was throwing 11 birdies onto the board, he inadvertently struck a theme when he noticed his parents in the crowd. I try to focus, but then my ADD kicks in, he joked.
Maybe the softer side of Augusta National demands a little ADD. Sports psychologist call it dumb focus ' see ball, hit ball stuff. And, if reaction from players late Saturday was any indication, no deficit is too high of a mountain to climb.
Within five strokes Im going to have a chance, said Steve Stricker, who is alone in fifth place at 7 under. It means I have to play some great golf, but you can go backwards or forwards here really easily.
How much is too much seemed to depend on how much change has really come to Augusta National. The players have done their part, the rest is up to those who set pins and, to a greater degree, Ma Nature.
But if Perry or Cabrera open the door even slightly, the line of takers is a whos who list of major players. Chad Campbell is two shots back, Jim Furyk is another shot adrift at 8 under and Woods and Phil Mickelson top a large group a touchdown away going into the fourth quarter.
Campbell seemed destined for a spot in the final group until he left his bunker shot from behind the 16th in the sand. It was a misstep, not a meltdown, and the quiet Texan who recently took a membership at Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth, played like the clubs most famous alum Ben Hogan for the other 53 holes.
He stumbled late, but the player who was once voted the PGA Tours best player without a major shingle has a calm that suggests it may finally be his turn.
I would rather be in the final group, obviously because you'd be a couple shots better and wouldn't have to make up as many shots, Campbell said. Still looking forward to tomorrow. Still got a great opportunity to win this golf tournament.
Besides, Campbell seems to fit the profile thats emerging from the first major played since last years Ryder Cup.
In fact, considering the leaderboard, a list that looks vaguely like Paul Azingers lineup from Valhalla, PGA of America officials might consider trying to slide Augusta National into the next open Ryder Cup spot. Among the top 10 after three rounds at Augusta National, only Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and J.B. Holmes were missing.
For Perry, the sentimental hero of Valhalla, a Masters victory would be a coup de grace of his own design after putting more importance on collecting friends than major championships. At least, until now. And it could all start on Perrys Porch . . . make that Camellia.
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