SAN DIEGO – Already this week there has been much ink spilt on Tiger Woods’ chase for a record-setting nine wins at Torrey Pines, even though, if you ask him, he already thinks he's locked up No. 9 – at the 1992 Junior Worlds here.
Really, though, Woods could have already reached double-digit Ws at this municipal course along the Pacific Bluffs.
The guy who denied him? Pat Perez, who blew away Woods by eight shots on his way to winning the Junior Worlds in ’93.
And, make no mistake, Tiger has been hearing about it ever since.
“Best day of my life,” Perez said, smiling.
Thursday must have been another banner day, because the San Diego native opened with a bogey-free 67 to top Woods by five and, more importantly, sit just three shots off the first-round lead in the Farmers Insurance Open.
The player least surprised by Perez’s round? None other than Woods.
“He grew up here,” he said afterward. “This was his home course – he’s played it more times than anybody.”
Indeed, this event has always been Perez’s fifth major. He is a San Diego kid, he attended Torrey Pines High School, and he used to work various, low-paying jobs at this world-class municipal course. His father, Tony, still announces players on the first tee.
Even now, Perez, 37, looks out on the practice tee and figures he has logged thousands of miles on the range picker. As a kid, he cleaned carts and shuttled players back and forth from the range in the old San Diego Opens. Each day he rose at 4 a.m. and wouldn’t return home until 11 that night. He couldn’t wait to wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Sometimes, when no one was looking, Perez would pocket the brand-new range balls, which were nicer than any beat-up balatas he was whacking around at the time.
“I’d go home and have this huge bucket of balls,” he recalled. “I never hit them. Never played them. I just, you know, stared at them. I just thought that’s got to be the greatest job in the world.”
Lately, though, it’s proven to be an arduous job for Perez. He says he’s “finally got my game in order” after a switch late last year to instructor Joe Mayo. The biggest revelation during their 2 1/2 months together has been teaching Perez how to better understand ball launch.
Perhaps that information will be the impetus he needs to fulfill what had been a very promising junior career.
In 1993, he won the Junior Worlds here over Woods – “I think that was the last time I beat him, really” – and followed up that triumph with a victory two weeks later at the Maxfli PGA Junior at Pinehurst. After receiving a college scholarship to Arizona State, he helped the Sun Devils win the NCAA title in ’96.
Though he used to “kill it all the time” on Torrey Pines’ South Course, success has proved elusive here since the course’s re-do in advance of the 2008 U.S. Open – a familiar refrain, indeed, for San Diegoans.
“Torrey Pines South is on a beautiful piece of land,” said another local boy, Charley Hoffman, “and that’s where I’m going to leave it.”
In 11 career starts at this event, Perez has finished in the top 10 only twice. His opening 67 here on the more difficult South Course was his best score since a second-round 63 in 2004.
“It feels awesome,” he said.
So does topping his good buddy Woods, whom he has known since age 8 and, like everyone else, has been on the receiving end of far too many beatdowns.
Throughout the years the two players have remained close, and Woods even sent Perez a text on Thursday morning. It was a swing thought; something borrowed from Hogan that he thought might help Perez.
“It’s just little stuff like that,” Perez said. “He’s great.”
Still, he takes immense pleasure in needling Woods about that junior event some 21 years ago.
“I’ll never let it go because everybody else doesn’t have anything on him as far as golf,” Perez said. “He’s beat everybody for so many years, I’ve got to hold onto that. It hurts him. I tell you, it hurts him.”