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Lusetich: For one day, an old friend gets the better of Tiger
“I’ve always been around him,” Perez said.
Perez, who grew up a few miles north of Torrey Pines, where he worked as a kid, has always been in the shadow of the Tiger.
Who in golf hasn’t?
Perez just started earlier.
But there was one day, 21 years ago here at this beautiful course cut into the bluffs above the Pacific that means so much to both of them, when the now-38-year-old wasn’t left eating Tiger’s dust.
And he remembers it like it was yesterday.
“Best day of my life,” Perez said. “I’ve known him forever; he’s always been great to me . . . but to beat him that year (in the Junior Worlds) was fantastic. I’ll never let it go because not just myself, but like everybody else, literally, I have nothing else on him as far as golf. He’s beat everybody for so many years, I’ve got to hold on to that. But it hurts him. . . . I’ll tell you, it hurts him.”
Woods acknowledges Perez has never let him forget about that loss, when they were both 17.
“Trust me, he gives me a hard time about it,” he said.
Perez still treasures the photograph of him being presented with the trophy while Woods, who finished fourth, is off to the side.
“I got him by eight (shots),” he said. “I tell you, I remember it like it was yesterday. I think it was the last time I beat him, really.”
That might not literally be true, but suffice to say the guy with one PGA Tour win — the 2009 Humana Challenge in Palm Springs — hasn’t been much of a professional rival to Woods.
Still, on a gorgeous Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open, it was Perez who stole the headlines.
He and Woods both opened on the daunting South course, which played four shots harder than the shorter North. While Perez posted a flawless five-birdie round of 67, Woods managed only a lackluster even-par 72. Both trailed Stewart Cink, who took apart the North Course with an 8-under-par 64.
“Even par’s not too bad, but I didn’t play the par-5s worth a darn today,” Woods complained. “I played them at even par. Parred all of them. If I play those normal, I’m 2, 3 under par and all of a sudden, it’s a pretty good score.”
Woods — who was 77 under par on the par-5s in his seven PGA Tour victories here — simply didn’t drive the ball straight enough. He kept finding the rough off the tee on the par-5s, then compounded the errors by laying up into rough, making the approaches into the green too unpredictable.
His coach, Sean Foley, who has been pleased with Woods' early season work, wasn’t too worried because, he said, the misses with the driver were small.
Perez’s misses, on this day at least, were smaller.
“I’ve played it a thousand times, but it’s hard when tournament time comes around,” he said. “But I hit it really good today, and I made some putts.”
As he spoke, he looked outside the media center to the driving range and remembered from where he came.
“Every time I come back here, I see the picker going," he said. "I logged a thousand miles on that range picking (balls) and cleaning carts, till 11 o’clock at night. I used to shuttle the (tour players) up and down the range.
“I’d get up at about 4 in the morning, and I’d come back about 11 at night and couldn’t wait to get back the next day to see all the pros. I’d steal a lot of the Titleist balls that were on the range. I’d go home and have this huge bucket of balls, never hit them, never played them, you know, just stared at them.”
He used to watch the pros in awe: Craig Stadler and Tommy Armour and Steve Elkington.
And now he’s one of them.
Perez, who has rededicated himself to his game — with the help of new coach, Joe Mayo, and Trackman, a device that shows helps players predict how a golf ball will behave — isn’t looking too far ahead.
He’s fallen into that trap before here. But he knows he’s in the hunt and that maybe, come Sunday, he’ll have another shot at beating Tiger.
“It feels awesome,” he said.