Five Years Later Perks a Long Way from the Top

By Associated PressMay 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
2007 THE PLAYERSPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- His image hangs from a banner on the road into THE PLAYERS Championship, a courtesy extended only to winners. He will always have a locker in the corner room set aside for champions in the sprawling clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass, right between Tiger Woods and Adam Scott.
More reassuring for Craig Perks than any of those status symbols is a DVD he keeps at home.
'I look at it when I get down to say, 'Hey, I did that. I'm THE PLAYERS champion. I won,'' Perks said.
It was five years ago, his only PGA TOUR victory, a finish that arguably remains the greatest in the 33-year history of this event.
Trailing by one shot, Perks chipped in for eagle from 20 feet on the 16th hole. Then came the scary island green on the par-3 17th, where Perks holed a 30-foot birdie putt. And right when it looked as though he was on the cusp of a choke, he chipped in for par on the final hole from 30 feet behind the green.
'You're unbelievable,' Woods told him that afternoon at the trophy presentation.
Unbelievable takes on a new meaning now.
Since that '02 victory at Sawgrass, the 40-year-old New Zealander has played 125 times on the PGA TOUR and made 39 cuts, with only two of those finishes in the top 10. The last one was a tie for fourth at Colonial four years ago.
He has played five times this year and has yet to break par, much less cash a check. Perks is coming off a season in which he finished 254th out of 263 who earned official money on the PGA TOUR. His lone payoff came at New Orleans, where he finished last.
He plugged in the DVD at the start of the season to give himself a boost.
Didn't work.
'I take a positive away from it, knowing I can do it,' Perks said. 'I know I can play well. I can compete with the best in the world. I just haven't done it.'
Time is running out.
This is the last year of his five-year exemption on the PGA TOUR and to THE PLAYERS Championship. He will always have status as a past champion, and likely can get sponsor exemptions as one of the nicest, classiest people around.
Perks has heard endless references to being a 'one-hit wonder,' and he might end up being the poster boy.
Shaun Micheel has not won since his PGA Championship in 2003, but he was runner-up at the PGA last year and reached the final of the World Match Play Championship last year in England. Paul Lawrie won the British Open at Carnoustie, then captured the Dunhill Links a few years later at St. Andrews. Ben Curtis won twice last year.
'I'm proud to be out here playing, and to have won the event I won,' Perks said. 'A lot of great players have never won at all. I'm not pushing to get that second victory, I'm pushing to get my game back in shape.'
There are few signs he is about to turn the corner.
It didn't help that he was in the same group as Woods the first two rounds at the Wachovia Championship last week, where his game was on display for some 5,000 people. Perks opened with an 80, and only a stellar short game kept his 76 in the second round from being worse.
'I was more embarrassed hitting those shots in front of Tiger than all the people,' Perks said. 'You become more focused. I was more focused than I've been in a month. It's a privilege to play with the best player in the world. I'm watching him to see what he does and trying to learn something from him.'
They were together again Tuesday for a practice round at THE PLAYERS. Woods didn't want to wait behind a few groups on No. 1, so he jumped ahead to the third hole, where he and Bubba Watson hooked up with a former PLAYERS champion.
'He's such a great guy,' Woods said. 'For him to struggle the way he's struggling, it pains you to watch, because you know the talent is there. You can see it. He's just struggling right now.'
Perks' biggest problem has been driving, and some observers have said he has the yips with the driver. He has hit so many wayward tee shots that he no longer knows where the next one is going.
So it had to be a little unsettling on the 14th hole at Sawgrass when Watson, who swings for the fence on every hole, unleashed a tee shot that took off like a rocket and gently faded toward the middle of the fairway, beyond the shelf where even long balls land.
Woods looked over at Perks.
'You want to go next?' Woods said to him.
The Kiwi smiled, waited his turn, then guided a tee shot some 40 yards behind Woods and twice that distance behind Watson.
Perks said he struggled with the sudden fame that came with winning THE PLAYERS, especially in that fashion. That's not unusual for any first-time winner. He had to cope with demands on his time, and he tried to become a player worthy of winning such an elite tournament. That's not unusual, either.
'I looked at the negative side of where I finished in 2002 -- ball-striking -- instead of the positive side, which was the money list,' said Perks, who was 34th on the money list that year. 'I made radical changes to be more consistent. I liked what I saw, I just couldn't get results out of it. I came back to knowing what I can do, instead of listening what I should do. And I lost confidence.'
He has gone through three swing coaches in the last five years. Now he's on his own, trying to learn from videotape taken from the range and videotape of 2002 at Sawgrass.
'It's just not coming out right now,' he said of his game.
His banner will always be on Champions Way. His nameplate will in the champions locker room.
The goal after this week will be to see it himself.
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    Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

    Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

    Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

    So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

    How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

    1. Stay healthy

    So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

    Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

    Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

    2. Figure out his driver

    Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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    That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

    Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

    Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

    That won’t be the case at Augusta.

    3. Clean up his iron play

    As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

    At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

    Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

    That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

    Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

    4. Get into contention somewhere

    As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

    In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

    “I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

    Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

    And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

    “It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

    Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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    Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

    Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

    The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

    According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

    Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

    The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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    Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

    Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

    “Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

    Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

    Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

    With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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    Thomas was asked about that.

    “I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

    “I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

    Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

    “It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

    “I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

    Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

    “That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

    Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

    “Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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    Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

    By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

    McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

    “Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

    The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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    The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

    “He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”