Rolling into today’s third round at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, we have a great leaderboard. Played on what everyone claims to be a great course, the Quail Hollow Club, a meaty par 72 played at 7,442 yards, the boys seem to have figured it out.
In very good conditions interrupted by just the briefest of rain delays, they have gone low. Bill Haas shot a bogie-free, 8-under 64 right out of the box the first day. Once somebody demonstrates what’s possible, the onslaught begins: there were two 66’s that day along with two 67’s, five 68’s and eleven 69’s.
The second day was just as rude to the course except that in addition to the low round of 64, there were two 65’s, one of them shot by the current leader Pat Perez.
When I first looked at the leaderboard last night, I started salivating over the talent. Oh, what a great day it’s going to be! We have the streaky Perez at the top.
Two strokes back, the cool Bill Haas (he of PGA Tour royalty) with hole-in-one playoff winner in Las Vegas, Jonathan Byrd.
Three strokes back sits the great Phil Mickelson together with the subject of yesterday’s post, Lucas Glover.
Four strokes back and putting his game back together is Vijay Singh. He’s joined by adopted North Carolina son, Swede, Carl Pettersson and, coming off a flat year for him, British Open Champion, Stewart Cink.
And there are some exciting prospects just below them who are still in it with two good rounds: Webb Simpson, Steve Marino, Kevin Na, John Senden (who shot the 64 yesterday) and Sergio Garcia.
But my attention kept coming back to Pat Perez. Not just because he has a 2-shot lead, but because of his persona. I first became aware of him when a friend who followed college golf told me about this phenomenal talent at Arizona State and that if he could just tame his short-fuse anger, he was going to be a helluva player.
After playing two years on the Nationwide Tour, he fulfilled that promise by finishing 1st in the 2001 Q-School. And although he missed one less than the 14 cuts that he did make in 2002, he managed two 2nd’s, one of them at Pebble Beach.
There seems to be a stretch in most Tour players’ careers where they have to go from splashy success to steady, routine competence. It’s the learning-how-to-play years. He had the same kind of cut ratio in 2003, but without the benefit of those two high finishes. And it was about the same in 2004 in terms of money. He had one more flat year in 2006, but since then, he’s been cruising to a very nice career with his first and only win in 2009, The Bob Hope Classic.
And I kind of get the sense that it’s gnawing at him a little bit. Why would cruising to a very nice career gnaw at him? Because of all the next-great-player hype through his college years. You get infused with who you’re supposed to be and then try to live up to it.
So you come out of college with that cocky swagger…and then you get waylaid on the Nationwide Tour for two years. And while he took the experience to that 1st at Q-School, he continues to miss a lot of cuts. Not as many as in the early years, but he missed 8 of 27 just last year.
And so, whether it’s true or not, I have always seen Perez as someone with a lot of false swagger. There is a fine line between exuding the kind of confidence that we see in Phil Mickelson and the cocky, simmering swagger Perez exudes as a sort of proxy for all that he knows he can be.
Why? It’s that damned ego again. I have no idea for sure, of course—I don’t even know him beyond the window of television, but when I look at Perez’s face, I see a sort of drained longing for the stature in the game that he thinks he’s capable of.
So as I watch today’s third round, I’ll be watching to see, not just how Perez plays, but also how much of his cockiness and swagger he can transform into the assured certainty of his greatness.