Perez believes intense scrutiny of a new kind is suffocating Woods’ game. He thinks Woods’ attempt to play nice between the ropes and appease critics of his stormy temperament is taking away an edge that’s always worked for Woods.
“He needs to get that prick back in him,” said Perez, winner of the 2009 Bob Hope Classic. “But he knows he can’t do that, or he’s just going to get hammered by the media if he does anything. But that’s him. He’s like me. He gets upset. He doesn’t accept mediocrity. That’s part of what’s made him great. You can’t change that.”
Woods and Perez will be among the 145 players teeing it up in Thursday’s start of The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Woods is coming off only the sixth missed cut of his career, a disappointing showing at Quail Hollow that included a 79 in the second round. It was just his second tournament back since news of his marital infidelities began rocking the golf world. He spent four-and-a-half months away before returning with a tie for fourth at the Masters three weeks ago.
Perez said Woods invited him to play a practice round on Tuesday. J.J. Henry also joined them. Perez said it was mostly a light-hearted day with Perez and Woods trading good-natured barbs.
Perez has taken note of how Woods is trying to change the way he plays the game, particularly the way he’s trying to control his emotions. Perez has wrestled with his own temper over the years. While he’s toned down his act, he says a fiery temperament remains integral to what brings out the best in him.
“I’ve calmed down a lot, but I’ll still have an occasional throw at the bag, or whatever, but that’s just me and that’s the way he is,” Perez said. “It’s why he’s won so many times. He’s got that `I’m going to beat you’ in him, and that `I know I’m going to beat you.’ Whatever he was doing before [inside the ropes], is how he needs to get back to playing. His fierceness, his feistiness, it’s what’s going to make him great again.
“But he can’t, because he’s got so many eyes judging him. It’s `Oh my god, he spit, did you see that?’ They’ll talk about that for 20 minutes on Golf Channel. Or `My god, he hit five balls in the water, we’ve got to talk about that because now he’s ruined.’ Yes, he’s brought it on himself, I understand that, but the golf needs to be talked about.”
Since returning to the game, Woods has pledged to change inside and outside the ropes.
Perez befriended Woods growing up playing junior, high school and college golf against Woods in Southern California. They’re both 34. While Perez said he didn’t broach personal issues in his practice round with Woods, he senses how external pressures might be impacting Woods’ game.
“He’s going through a bad patch on the outside, and there’s no human alive that can’t affect,” Perez said. “The golf will come around. He needs to get himself right in the mind first, and all this other [crap] going on the outside is hard to block. He’s got everyone on him, everyone staring at him, everybody talking about him. The media’s all over him all the time. He just can’t get away from it. They just won’t leave him alone.”
Woods hit five balls in the water over nine holes in that Tuesday practice round. Perez said way too much was made of that with Woods working on shots. He believes Woods is off his game mostly because he’s missed 15 months over the last two years and that his game will rebound as he plays more.
“It was a Tuesday. Who cares?” Perez said of the five water balls. “If he did it on a Sunday afternoon, with a four-shot lead and shot 45 on the back, yeah, you can talk about it. It just doesn’t matter. He didn’t care.”
Perez said Woods found a fix for his swing on the driving range Tuesday, but he has these other challenges. That includes media picking at every imperfection, including those in his swing.
“He’s got to get his head right,” Perez said. “He’s only been back a month now.
“If he had been back three years and was still playing this way, you might be able to say, `You know, he might have a problem.’ It’s only his third tournament. He’s still going through things, with media all over him, eyeballing him everywhere he goes. There were 15 cameras out there at 7 o’clock [Tuesday morning]. I said `I don’t know how you do it. I wouldn’t trade positions with you.’ It’s got to be so old but the questions keep coming. Let him play golf, please, let him play golf.”