On paper, a T7 win at a fall series event in Las Vegas by a long time PGA Tour player. In reality, an incredible comeback story that will fully get it’s due when Pat Perez brings it home and again hoists a trophy on a Sunday afternoon.
To properly understand the magnitude of this recent Top 10 finish for the long-time Tour veteran, one has to go back to last fall and a rough fall series with missed cuts in Napa, Las Vegas and Cancun. Something was noticeably off, though the determined Perez worked to will himself healthy with a steady diet of Advil, ice packs, only-when-necessary Cortisone shots and extra rest over the holidays.
The annual west coast swing soon followed—the Southern California native again playing all six events to get a jump on the season—but the struggles continued. T81 in Honolulu, where Perez usually starts strong. Missed cuts in Palm Springs, San Diego and Phoenix, which also weren’t the norm.
T41 at Pebble Beach followed by no weekend play at Riviera—the pain continued, but so did Perez’s play. The Honda Classic is always an off week, on the heels of six straight—but Perez tacked on a seventh-consecutive event, hoping for a spark. Come Friday at PGA National in West Palm Beach, the exact opposite.
“I was hitting balls on Friday morning at the Honda; my seventh event in a row. I’m warming up around noon, I’m coming down and my hand is trembling—with a four iron—and it does it again; like three times,” Perez told Matt Adams of SiriusXM’s Fairways Of Life last April.
“I looked over at my caddie H and I go, ‘We got a real problem here.’ I knew something was really wrong.”
Perez flew back to Scottsdale the following morning—sticking around Palm Beach on Friday night to support a local CHIVE event’s cause he’d previously committed to. Come Monday, an MRI and the un-welcomed news regarding a severe labrum tear, surgery, a lengthy recovery and an immediate end to his 16th consecutive season on the PGA Tour.
THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
237 days spanned between that painful Friday round in Palm Beach and Thursday’s opening round at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia late October. Perez opened with a 74 at TPC Kuala Lumpur, but followed up with a Friday round of 67 and closed 71-68 on the weekend for T33. Even more important; proof for the kid that he still had it—the hard work paying off and his repaired body responding accordingly.
Nerves and a few errant shots definitely reared their ugly head at times over those 72 holes on the other side of the globe, but just knowing the shoulder could hold up was enough to let Perez know that something good was in store for Las Vegas and his first event on American soil in almost nine months.
Three-under after four holes on Thursday at TPC Summerlin, it was safe to say Perez was back—an air of confidence, mixed with a lightheartedness that had been missing too long. It’s something that anyone living in constant pain can attest to; the non-stop needling bleeding into your psyche and taking over your personality.
Grinning and bearing it becomes virtually impossible—especially when swinging a stick for a living and feeling an electrocuting shock every time contact is made.
Four-under with one remaining, play was on the verge of being suspended due to darkness. Perez had the option of finishing the par-five ninth hole (he started the day on No. 10), or showing up early Friday to warm up, close out and prep for round two.
The old Pat Perez chooses the former; frantically getting through the hole and arguably settling for par. Instead, Perez 2.0 called it—knowing the early-morning firmer greens would work to his favor. Come Friday morning, Perez his his third shot 52 feet to the green, left himself a four-footer for birdie, knocked it down and closed out an opening round 66—which he matched on Friday; closing strong with a 14’8” eagle putt on No. 16.
Saturday’s third round played a little tougher; Perez carding a 69 on “moving day”—even after 12, but birdying three of the day’s final six holes to put him in position to make a run on Sunday. Two-under after four in the final round, Perez was -3 at the turn and as it played out, would’ve needed to go five-under on the back nine to force a playoff.
Instead, he shot even—a bogey on the par-five thirteenth, followed-up by a brilliant second shot on the par-four fifteenth that set-up a 21” birdie putt to make up for the earlier mistake. Three pars on the way in closed out a final round 68—but more importantly proved to Perez that he’s recaptured (and improved upon) old form.
LEAVING LAS VEGAS; HOLA CANCUN
The clutch four days and Top 10 finish was also Perez’s best in Las Vegas in 11 tries. Perez missed the cut at the Sin City event six times over the years. Outside of that, finishes of T30 (2007), T24 (2008), T23 (2004) and T14 (2010), before last week’s career-best finish at TPC Summerlin.
As it goes in the PGA Tour world, no rest for the weary. On Monday, an event at Shadow Creek with the MGM Grand family—where Perez proudly boasted on social media that he spent the majority of the day “wearing out” comedian Cedric The Entertainer with 15-year old material from The Kings Of Comedy special. Come Tuesday morning, on a plane to Cancun for this week’s Tour event; the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, where Perez hit the ground running on Thursday morning with an opening round 68 that has him T20.
However things wind up south of the border, Perez already notched the win of his career by way of a successful fall series comeback. The stage is set for what looks to be an incredible 2017—trophies hoisted and validation that the seasoned veteran still has all the goods needed to remain a full-fledged force on the PGA Tour.