'Volcano' spews birdies after early tremors

Pat Perez

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - Pat Perez, nicknamed “The Volcano” for his explosive tendencies, had many reasons to blow like Mount Vesuvius in Saturday’s third round of the Northern Trust Open. Instead, he displayed a relatively calm demeanor to salvage a terrible start and stay just one shot back of co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley going into Sunday’s final round.

With one PGA Tour victory to his credit, the 50th Bob Hope Classic hosted by Arnold Palmer, Perez was in good position after a second-round 65 to win again. Playing with fellow San Diegan Mickelson, also an Arizona State alumnus, Perez was in a comfortable place for the third round.

Perez followed Mickelson’s lead early with a birdie-par start and actually was in position to catch Lefty if he could convert a 11-foot birdie putt on the third hole. However, the putt slid left on the difficult and bumpy Poa annua greens of Riviera Country Club. His par putt turned out of the hole and came back to him, leaving Perez with only his second three-putt of the week.

Bogeys happen, but Perez added insult to injury on the fourth hole, coming up just short on the long par 3. From the front of the green, Perez lagged a 60-footer to 5 feet. Again Perez would miss a par putt and then miss the 3-footer coming back as the putt turned outside the hole. With a double bogey-5, Perez fell three shots behind Mickelson.

“That was just a fluke; three‑putt from 10 feet, three‑putt from 5 feet? That’s just a fluke,” Perez said of the two-hole mishap. “I’ve putted great for six weeks, so I knew if I could just get a couple looks, I’d be fine. It was unfortunate. After birdieing one, I made a good par on two, then I hit it tight on three and make 5, and then I hit a great shot on four and it lands a foot short and spins and stops.”

In the past, Perez may have erupted on the fourth green or fifth tee. Now, playing more like a savvy veteran than an emotional rookie, Perez played his final 14 holes in 3 under and finished the day at 1-under 70, the same score as Mickelson.

“I thought he really gutted it out and played tough,” Mickelson said of Perez. “I was impressed with the way he fought hard. Again, there’s a great example when you make some mistakes and you don’t have it all going in the right direction. He hearted it out pretty good.”

Perez will be paired with Bryce Molder, playing behind the final group of Bradley and Mickelson. Perez says he will be comfortable chasing the leaders. In fact, he thinks the atmosphere will be calmer than the circus that followed the final group Saturday, and that could portend a faster start for him.

“I’m just looking at things differently,” Perez said. “Guys are going to play good behind us, but I don’t know how far the lead is going to get ahead of me. If I could just battle all day and make putts, I’d be good.”

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