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Borges: Kirk Triplett not happy with record-setting loss in U.S. Senior Open at Salem CC

July 3, 2017 GMT

PEABODY — Two putts of about 3 feet each were all that separated Kirk Triplett from a dream. That, of course, is often how dreams are broken in golf. Not by many yards but by a few feet.

The Salem Country Club course traverses 6,815 yards of Peabody real estate, yet had Triplett better managed just 2 yards of it he and Kenny Perry still might be playing for the 38th U.S. Senior Open Championship. That he did not is what separated a major champion from a broken dreamer.

Triplett misjudged a 3-foot birdie putt on No. 16 Saturday and misread a 3-footer for par on the par-3 fifth yesterday, leading to 2 lost strokes that may not have seemed like much at the time but in the end were much of the reason Perry won the silver ice bucket with a Senior Open-record low of 264. It took that low of a score to beat Triplett, because his 266 was the lowest in tournament history not good enough to win.

Kirk Triplett seems to be a bottom-line guy. A businessman, as it were. He plays golf for money and knows it, so when appraised of that sad fact yesterday he raised his considerable eyebrows and mouthed a disinterested: “Wow.” He didn’t seem moved.

What did that matter? Could you cash a check based on that sadly frustrating fact?

Three days earlier, Triplett had shot a Senior Open record-tying 62 to take the first-round lead and was asked what it meant to tie the mark for lowest round in the tournament’s history. He seemed to think as much of it as he did of carding a record-low score for a Senior Open loser.

“Do they pay you for that?” Triplett said. “Sorry. You know that stuff is great. I’m not going to pooh-pooh it, but this is the biggest tournament on our Tour. I’m more about the tournament than the individual round’s accomplishment. I’m not just out here playing. The record part is the least important thing.”

That would be especially true when the record he set yesterday was for lowest score not to win the Senior Open. As titles go, it’s not one a golfer dreams of. He dreams of playing great when it counts most, which Triplett knew he had not done.

“I’m not going to say I played great golf,” Triplett said. “I scored really well. I had a tremendous short game. Tremendous. Made a bunch of putts. Hit some incredibly difficult chips and pitches and made some pars from some places I had no business making pars from. Otherwise, I’m down there in the 4-, 5-, 6-under range.”

That he was not had much to do with his short game and putter. Yet, in the end, it was the latter that let him down, although one cannot forget that Perry was the only player to shoot in the 60s all four days, so certainly he won the tournament more than Triplett lost it.

When the day began Triplett held a 1-shot lead, although it disappeared after Perry birdied the opening hole. Triplett never again could get alone atop the leaderboard and once he missed that short putt on No. 5 to fall 1 back he never recovered.

For the rest of the day he was in chase mode, twice falling to 4 back (after bogeys on Nos. 9 and 13). He closed with a rush but Perry understood that once he’d pushed his lead to 3 shots he could force Triplett to take chances on the wind-blown Salem CC course that were a witch’s brew of difficulty.

“I got to thinking percentage golf,” Perry said. “I started firing up to all the middle of the greens, just let my putter 2-putt, and force him to make birdies and maybe he would make a mistake, short-side himself or something, which he didn’t.”

Actually he did. Triplett had only seven bogeys over four days, but five came yesterday. Of those, the one on the par-3 fifth hole seemed to be the one from which he could never recover after 3-putting the hole to fall out of a tie for the last time.

“I misread it twice,” Triplett said. “It didn’t break left, but I putted it up from the bottom tier, and then I stood over the next one and hit it on the right edge, thinking it was going to break left. Maybe if I’d gotten behind the hole and looked at it, and I’d have realized the green was coming off that front bunker slope. Certainly, after I missed it, I realized, oh, man, I played that putt in the complete wrong spot.”

In tournament golf at this level, that’s how victory becomes defeat. Not often is it one tragic swing or one wild miscalculation. Usually it’s like what happened to Kirk Triplett on a sunny Sunday in July.

It’s one small miscalculation. One slightly pulled putt. One loose swing. One ball burning the edge of the cup and sliding by. Add up his four days of golf and you have the best round ever not to win the Senior Open. Add it up on Kirk Triplett’s scorecard and you have a different view of things.

“I didn’t have the game to do it today,” he said matter-of-factly. “I just didn’t play very well. I was off balance right from the start.

“Kenny played beautifully. I was beating myself. I was just trying to make some solid contact. I feel very fortunate to have gotten it down to that 2-shot gap with a couple holes to go. At 17 and 18 I had not-makeable putts, but they’re putts to knock them in and put more pressure on the guy. When I’m playing 8, 9, and 10 — or 8 and 9, I’m thinking I’m not going to have that putt.

“I’m glad I had a good back nine,” he added. “I’m glad I recovered. I’m glad I sort of made him feel like he earned it instead of someone gave it to him. The more you want something, the harder it is to get it. I hit some OK shots early in the round, (but) I had a 3-putt on 5 that kind of knocked me off balance a little bit.”

That’s all it took to turn a 1-shot lead at 2 p.m. into a 2-shot loss before 6. Thin margins are what separate the winners from the losers in professional golf and that’s what happened. Six feet was all there was between Kenny Perry and Kirk Triplett, but that was just enough for one man’s dream to drift away.