SAN DIEGO – As he stood to the side of the scoring area behind the 18th green Sunday afternoon, Tony Perez wore a big smile. Inside, he probably ached, but he was looking at the big picture. “He played great. He’s got his head on straight. He’s going to win a few times this year,” said Tony Perez.
For years, he’s been the official starter at the first tee of this Farmers Insurance Open, but for even longer he’s been Pat Perez’s father.
And on this day, he was never any prouder of his son.
Minutes later, Tony Perez stepped aside because Pat had come out of the scoring house. He held a cold soft drink, took a deep breath, and prepared himself for what he knew was coming: Questions as to why he didn’t try and reach the final green in two and try to make eagle to tie?
Pat Perez – his round of 2-under 70 for an 8-under 280 total in the books – was firm in his conviction.
“I couldn’t make (eagle) on my number,” he said, a reference to the 245 yards he had from the center of the fairway.
He was 7 under and knew that Scott Stallings was already in at 9 under. But Perez also knew that the two clubs that he could have hit in this situation weren’t the answer. “I would have hit 3-wood over the green and my hybrid would have been in the water,” he said.
He chose to lay up to about 90 yards and attack with a wedge. He felt if he hit it hard beyond the flagstick and let it spin off the slope, a three was possible. “But it didn’t spin enough,” said Perez, who hit a splendid shot.
The birdie putt from just inside of 3 feet did get him to 8 under and a five-way tie for second, but this one stung. A lot.
“There’s great, and bad,” he said, “because this is the one I want to win more than anything in the world.”
Born and raised in the area, his game honed right here at Torrey Pines, Perez had a strong and vocal following all week. And as he answered the painful questions, the crowd stayed loyal, cheering him all the more.
“When I woke up this morning, I really thought I was going to get it done,” said Perez, playing for the 13th time in front of his hometown fans at this tournament. He was T-6 in 2005 and has been inside the top 25 each of the last three years, but this was his best chance to win a tournament that is his Masters or U.S. Open.
“I thought today was my day.”
Tied at several points during the day, Perez stumbled at the par-3 16th when he missed the green just to the left, then failed to make a 12-footer for par. Undaunted, he got aggressive at the 17th and thought he had made a 10-footer to get back into a tie. But somehow his putt stayed out, and when Stallings one group ahead made his birdie at 18, Perez knew what he had to do.
He had to make eagle.
But he insisted he just couldn’t have done it by going for the green from 245 yards. Perez’s caddie, Mike Hartford, suggested that if they were 10-15 yards closer, they could have gone at it with a hybrid; or if they were 10-15 yards further back, a 3-wood would have been the club.
But 245? Perez shook his head once again. Bad number, he said.
“But a great week,” Tony Perez said.