- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Two debuts and an awkward return define perhaps the most low-key week on the golf calendar until the conclusion of the FedEx Cup.

Career chapters begin for Danny Lee and Tom Lehman, while Masters bridesmaid Kenny Perry returns to the game that betrayed him so cruelly at Augusta National.

“The sooner I get back into it and get over it, the better it’s going to be for me,” said Perry, the only top-10 player in the field at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

At the Masters, the 48-year-old compounded his bogey-bogey finish in regulation with a second-hole, sudden-death blunder to hand the green jacket to Angel Cabrera.

“I haven’t beaten myself up so much about this deal,” Perry said. “I wouldn’t consider it choking. … I got defensive. Instead of being aggressive, I started to hang on. And that’s the worst thing you can do in golf.”

Lee joins Perry at the Zurich Classic, hoping to add another page to his prodigy profile in his first start as a professional. The 18-year-old Korean native broke Tiger Woods’ record as the youngest champion in U.S. Amateur history last year and then trumped that mark by becoming the youngest European Tour winner two months ago at the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Lee turned pro after missing the cut at the Masters two weeks ago and already has signed a sponsorship deal with Callaway. Following this week’s debut at the Zurich Classic, Lee’s schedule already includes stops at the Quail Hollow Championship, Byron Nelson Championship, Colonial Invitational, Memorial, AT&T; National and WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

Up a generation and down a performance notch, Lehman makes his Champions Tour debut at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah, Ga. The British Open champion and PGA Tour player of the year in 1996, Lehman earned respect from the masses as a late-blooming, blue-collar everyman whose grit far outstripped his natural abilities.

The University of Minnesota product played sparingly after his oft-criticized captaincy of the losing 2006 U.S. Ryder Cup team, finishing well outside the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list each of the last two years. But Lehman made the cut in each of his last four starts on the PGA Tour and boasts a strong partner this week in Charles Schwab Cup points leader Bernhard Langer.

“You get the same old song and dance from everybody - ‘We’re a bunch of old guys that can’t play anymore, so just take it easy on us.’ I know better,” Lehman said of joining the Champions Tour. “That’s like being set up on the first tee, giving a guy two [strokes a side] and then he shoots 66.”

TempoRory status - Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy has returned home after his successful six-tournament debut on the PGA Tour. The 19-year-old racked up five consecutive top-20 finishes (including the Masters, where he tied for 20th) before ending his dizzying stay in the United States with a fatigue-addled performance at last week’s Heritage Classic, when he finished tied for 58th.

“I was a bit flat following the Masters and will definitely be rethinking the strategy of playing the weeks following majors,” said McIlroy, who earned a temporary membership on the PGA Tour for the rest of the season by eclipsing No. 150 on last year’s money list. “I’ve had a great start to the season even if things didn’t go exactly to plan this week.”

McIlroy is scheduled to return to the U.S. for the Players Championship (May 7-10) but is committed to spending the bulk of this season in Europe.

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