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Perez (60) Finds Cure for Emotion Sickness

January 19, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

Pat Perez hasn't won a tournament yet, but he has come close.

What he has done is show an uncanny ability to melt down in titanic proportions, such as when he began the last round at Pebble Beach in 2002 with a four-shot lead and tried very hard to bury his three-wood in the middle of the fairway right after he pumped a shot out of bounds. Then he triple bogeyed the 18th hole.

Last year at the Honda Classic, Perez blew up after missing a putt on the last day and chose to taunt his golf ball with an obscene gesture. It was a classic Perez moment ... instantaneous, incendiary, controversial ... also nationally televised.

Perez decided it was one more thing.

"Stupid," he said Wednesday.

So on the opening day of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, Perez showed a new, non-destructive side of himself and chose to take out on the golf course whatever drives him, which led to a 12-under-par 60 on the Palmer Course at PGA West and a three-shot lead.

If a 12-birdie, no-bogey round with 30s on each side is how you play when you're a reformed bad boy, Perez might be on to something. He decided he would temper his temper, to clean up his act. He said it's beginning to pay off.

"About a thousand percent. I'm really trying to work on changing my reputation and having a huge attitude and bad temper and the whole thing," he said. "I think that after the thing that happened with the Honda, I started realizing a little bit more how stupid it is and how embarrassing it is.

"I hit a point, I said I'm going to change all this and I don't want any of this anymore. The only way to do it is have people see and you play well."

No one played better than Perez, 29, who was still one shot off the course record -- David Duval eagled the last hole and shot 59 on the last day to win the 1999 Hope title.

Chad Campbell is the closest to Perez after his 63 at Bermuda Dunes Country Club and Steve Elkington is four shots off the lead after a 64 at La Quinta Country Club. John Huston, Olin Browne and Tom Pernice are next at seven-under 65 in the 90-hole event.

Phil Mickelson birdied the last two holes at La Quinta Country Club for a 66, six shots behind Perez. Defending champion Justin Leonard shot a 67 at Bermuda Dunes.

For its debut, the Classic Club at Palm Desert wound up as the toughest course of the four in the Hope rotation and played to a 71.03 average. The back nine played over par at 36.09. The new course was slightly more difficult than La Quinta (70.65). Bermuda Dunes was the easiest at 68.93. The Palmer Course at PGA West played to an average score of 69.96.

There were 54 rounds in the 60s and only 26 of the 128 pros shot over par. Joey Sindelar's 67 was the low round at the 7,305-yard Classic Club.

It's a simple game of follow the leader for everyone, thanks to Perez, who was first off the tee. He had six birdies on each side and could have gone even lower, but he made par at two of the par-fives, both times from the middle of the fairway.

And he didn't even get mad about it. Perez said he spent the off-season working out and also adjusting his mind-set. He accomplished that without any help, he said.

"It was just sit down, look at the mirror and say quit doing this and that's it and just stick with it because it's embarrassing," he said.

Elkington, who is 43 and in his 20th year on the PGA Tour, solved La Quinta, even though it was his first competitive round of the year. The only slip-up for the 1995 PGA champion was a three-putt bogey at the 14th, his fifth hole. His last victory was the 1999 Honda, but Elkington said his confidence level was high.

"You don't have to shoot eight under five days in a row, that would be 40 under. That would be a pretty good record," he said.

"There's no secret these courses are short for us. The conditions are good, although to me there are hard holes and the new course is going to create problems with the wind. That's what I'm thinking anyway."

Perez now owns two of the five lowest scores in the history of the Hope. He also had a 61 at Bermuda Dunes in 2003, a course record. Robert Gamez had a 60 at Indian Wells Country Club in 2004 and Lenny Clements had a 61 in 1994 at La Quinta.

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