The words “Pat Perez” and “relaxed” don’t often appear in the same sentence.
But facing the end of his golf career because of a shoulder injury, being dropped by his equipment sponsor and doubting if he would ever play again gave the 41-year-old a new perspective that is serving him well as he enjoys his finest season on the PGA Tour.
He had another good day on Saturday in the third round of The Players Championship. Perez hit 15 of 18 greens and needed only 26 putts on Saturday to craft a 6-under 66 at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, matching the low round of the tournament to that point, and moving him into a tie for 10th at the time he finished at 4-under-par 212.
Perez birdied three of his first four holes, then added three more birdies at Nos. 9, 12 and 13. Aside from a putt of nearly 18 feet at No. 2, he banged his iron shots close, with the rest of the birdies during that stretch coming on putts of 10 feet or less.
He got to 7-under for the day with a 14-foot birdie putt at No. 17 before dropping his only shot of the day at No. 18. He still logged his best 18-hole score in The Players in 14 starts.
Like many players, Perez has experienced a few good weeks and several bad ones at the Stadium Course. He’s missed six cuts and had three finishes outside the top-40, countered by three top-25 finishes, including a tie for third in 2006.
“It’s a hard course … doesn’t fit my eye on almost any shot, like everybody else,” he said. “That’s how it was designed. So you know who loves it? Maybe the winner on Sunday. There’s not a shot out there I’m comfortable hitting.”
Perez is in a good position to post his sixth top-10 finish of the season, which would match his career-high with 16 events left. He won his second PGA Tour title at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in November, then tied for third at the SBS Tournament of Champions and tied for fourth at the Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, Calif.
Last week, he tied for second at the Wells Fargo Championship. Concidentally, his playing partner in the third round, Brian Harman, birdied the final hole to win. Otherwise, there would have been a three-way playoff among Perez, Harman and Dustin Johnson.
Perez is fifth on both the FedEx Cup points list and the money list, and his $3.37 million in earnings this year is already a career high.
He hasn’t missed a cut this season — only a year removed from labrum surgery that jeopardized his career.
Often criticized for his temperament on the golf course and outspokenness, Perez said his goal this season has been to “prove people wrong.”
“I’m just tired … tired of opinions, tired of a lot of things,” he said. “And I got past it. I have a whole different outlook on life after being gone for a little bit and really not one person caring, other than my caddie and my wife. To be told at 40, ‘you can’t do it, you can’t come back, we really don’t believe in you’ … it’s a hell of a motivator.”
Perez said winning during the same calendar year that surgery was performed “was the ultimate low to the ultimate top.” He received a sponsor invitation to the Tour’s event in Malaysia, tied for 33rd, then tied for seventh in Las Vegas the week before his victory — which also was the first week he used his new PXG clubs.
“You think, ‘God, am I ever going to be able to hit a shot again,’ to being on top of the mountain,” he said. “It’s just incredible.”