Perry leads Champions Tour into Greater Hickory

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CONOVER, N.C. (AP) - Kenny Perry may hold a commanding lead in the Champions Tour’s season points race, but he’s not ready to pocket the $1 million annuity just yet.

Perry’s goal for now is to win or finish strongly in the next three tournaments, beginning with this weekend’s Greater Hickory Classic, which opens Friday on a reconfigured Rock Barn Golf and Spa course.

“The whole field’s in play this week,” said Perry, who won the Senior Players Championship and the U.S. Senior Open in consecutive tour start this summer.

“So it’s definitely not over. I’ve got to go out there and play well, and take care of things. It’s still been a great year for me. No matter what happens, it’s been a great year.”

Perry leads Bernhard Langer by 609 points in the Charles Schwab Cup standings (2,760-2,151) with three events remaining on the 50-and-over tour _ this weekend’s tournament, at San Antonio next week and the tour finale in San Francisco in two weeks.

Three other players _ David Frost (1,971), Duffy Waldorf (1,569) and Fred Couples (1,545) _ are mathematically still in the hunt for the Schwab Cup title. With four of the top five entered in this weekend’s tournament (Couples is the lone holdout), Perry knows that his lead can quickly disappear.

“It’s always come down to the last tournament, and it’s always come down to the last putt the last few years,” said the 14-time winner on the PGA Tour. “If one of those guys get hot, if Langer or Frosty get hot and I don’t make the top 10 and get points, they can catch me.”

The odds of that happening increase this week at the Greater Hickory Classic, where the field will have to get used to a new course layout at Rock Barn.

The club’s Robert Trent Jones-designed course, which the tournament has played on since its inception in 2003, suffered significant damage to several holes because of heavy rain and flooding last July.

“A buddy sent me pictures of the third and fourth hole,” Perry said. “I don’t know how many feet they were under water, but they’ve spent an unknown number of hours rebuilding those greens. I was amazed the effort they put in here to even allow us to have a tournament.”

Under the new course layout _ tournament officials are calling it the “Champions Course” _ the back nine holes of Rock Barn’s Jackson Course will serve as the front nine for this weekend’s tournament. The back nine will be comprised of holes 1-6 and 16-18 from the Jones Course, and drops the overall course score from a par 72 to a par 70.

“I actually played that new front nine twice (Tuesday), just to kind of figure out some course management and how I was going to play that first hole (a 477-yard par 4),” Perry said. “It’s a very difficult starting hole.

“But after that, the scoring opportunities are going to be very good, and there are a lot of difficult holes to make birdies. That’s why it’s going to be a shootout. If anybody gets their putter going or their short irons going, they’re going to have a very good opportunity.”

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