CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Pat Perez found himself in the middle of all the action for the second week in a row. At least this time, everyone wanted to talk to him about his golf.
Perez went from watching a great round to playing one himself Friday in the Wells Fargo Championship. Four shots behind as he stood on the 13th tee, he ran off five birdies over the last six holes for a 6-under 65 and a two-shot lead going into the weekend.
“That’s not what I had in mind when I stepped on the 13th tee, let me tell you that much,” Perez said.
Everyone was paying attention to Lucas Glover, who was 6 under through 10 holes and in the lead. Perez started making every putt, finishing with a 30-footer on the 17th and firing at the back left flag on the 18th for an 8-foot birdie.
He was at 12-under 132, giving him even more confidence about the overhaul of his swing earlier in the year.
Jonathan Byrd rallied from a double bogey on the 14th – he went bunker to bunker to water – for a 68 that put him two shots behind along with Bill Haas, who finally made a bogey on the 35th hole of the tournament and shot 70.
Phil Mickelson delivered more excitement and saved par from the water for the third time this time. Most of his great shots were for birdie on this day, and the three-time Masters champion wound up with a 66 to position himself nicely for the weekend. Mickelson was at 9-under 135 along with Glover, whose two late bogeys made him settle for a 68.
Perez was popular earlier this week for all the wrong reasons.
He was the third player in the group at New Orleans last week that featured a profanity-filled argument between Rory Sabbatini and Sean O’Hair during the tournament. Perez has turned down several reporters’ requests for comment, saying it didn’t involve him.
Even so, he was happy to get back to the golf this week.
“Sean O’Hair is one of the greatest guys in the world. I love playing with him,” Perez said. “And Rory has his moments. I’ve always along with Rory. I know how to deal with him. For the most part, Rory doesn’t even bother me in the least. It was a tough situation, and I’m hoping it never happens again because you never like to see two players go at it.
“But yeah, it was great to be on the course, and I knew I was playing well,” he said. “Just nice to have peace on the course, and having some laughs and all that kind of stuff. It was nice. It was fun.”
It was better than that. Perez has made so many birdies – 18 in two days – that he couldn’t even keep track.
The question now is how many more he needs to make going into the weekend that is shaping up to be a good show, especially with the rest of the weather – a 90-minute rain delay in the morning – out of the way.
Vijay Singh, who is at No. 54 in the world and needs to play well in the next three weeks to avoid U.S. Open qualifying, struck the ball well for the second straight day and shot 68 to reach 8-under 136, along with former British Open champion Stewart Cink (65) and Carl Pettersson, the Swede who went to school in North Carolina. He had a 68.
Ten players were within five shots of Perez going into the weekend at Quail Hollow.
Among those headed home early are defending champion Rory McIlroy. A year ago, he narrowly made the cut and then shot 62 on Sunday to win. In his return to America after his Masters collapse, McIlroy tried to rally again to get to the weekend, but lost hope when a vicious lipout on the 16th and a bogey on the last two holes. He shot 72 and finished at 3-over 147.
Perez played so poorly on the West Coast that he chose to revamp his swing under Mark Winkley, who uses the “Golfing Machine” concept. He had gone from a steeper takeaway to one that was more flat, and this involved another big adjustment. Then came a change in his putting, from crosshanded to conventional style with a more open stance.
There were a lot of moving parts, and a lot to digest. But after a chat with Steve Elkington, who talked about releasing his hips, something made sense to Perez at the Texas Open and he’s felt great ever since.
“I’m trying to get my body to release and go first and just let the club follow – like all the good players do, the guys that win,” he said.
Mickelson matched his best score in 30 rounds at Quail Hollow and showed why he can be such a big attraction. No one ever knows what’s coming next. After back-to-back birdies, he drove into the water on the 14th, took a penalty shot, and fired a wedge from 139 yards to a back pin to tap-in range for par.
Then came a 30-foot birdie on the 18th, and he made the turn with his confidence surging.
“Today I was thinking of going low,” Mickelson said. “Yesterday I was just kind of fighting to keep the round in check. Yesterday was an important day because I was able to use my short game to keep myself in it and shoot something under par so that when I get a hot day like today where I’m making a few putts, making some birdies, it’s able to move me up the leaderboard rather than just get me back in the middle of the pack.”
Glover had it going to, and it looked as if everything was going his way on the par-5 10th. He drove into the trees, chopped out to the fairway, then hit the top shelf of the green, some 70 feet away. He rolled in the putt for birdie, his sixth in 10 holes.
“It didn’t look like a birdie,” Glover said.
It looked as if he was having a lot of fun, though, as were most of the guys atop the leaderboard.
“I’ve been driving home a lot on Fridays, so I’m happy to get to play golf tomorrow,” Glover said.