SAN DIEGO (AP) Pat Perez had a PGA Tour event in Mexico in his plans when he returned from shoulder surgery that kept him out for seven months.
Now it’s looking like two trips to Mexico.
Perez had surgery in March to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and started the season on a major medical extension, giving him 15 events to regain his card. In an amazing turnaround, Perez won in his third event back with a 62-67 weekend at the OHL Classic in Mayakoba for a two-shot victory in November.
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”The ultimate up-and-down year,” he called.
But it gets even better, because Perez didn’t stop there.
He shot a 67 in the final round at Kapalua to tie for third. And then last week in the Farmers Insurance Open, which Perez refers to as his fifth major from having grown up at Torrey Pines, he stayed in the hunt for much of the back nine until Jon Rahm pulled away for a three-shot victory. Perez wound up in a tie for fourth.
Midway through the West Coast Swing, Perez already has a career-best $2.1 million in earnings and he ranks No. 3 in the FedEx Cup. He is virtually a lock to stay in the top 10 after the Honda Classic, which would get him into the World Golf Championship in Mexico City.
It would be only his sixth WGC event.
Perez was at No. 350 in the world when he returned to competition. Now he’s at No. 71, and closing in on the top 64 that would get him into the Dell Match Play two weeks before the Masters.
Not bad for a guy who at age 40 spent the better half of a year immobilized, his arm in a sling and his future never more uncertain.
”It was a great thing for me to take a break,” Perez said during the Hawaii swing. ”I turned 40 and I’d already been out here 15 years. I used this as a mid-career break. It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do when I came back. What do I want to work on? How do I want to play? How do I want to attack? You have nothing to do but sit around all day and think.”
Whatever was on his mind, it has paid off.
His great play has set up Perez for one tournament that he remarkably has never played – the Tour Championship.
He finished 40th on the money list his rookie year in 2002, but all that got him into was the Masters the following year (Augusta National used to take the top 40 on the previous year’s money list). To date, that’s his highest finish on the money list. He was in the mid-40s twice going into the BMW Championship, but failed to do well enough to crack the top 30 in the FedEx Cup and get to East Lake.
The year is still young, but Perez is sure trending in the right direction. And even if he doesn’t make it this year, he takes pride in that he has never lost his PGA Tour card since making it through Q-school in 2001.
”Everyone says, `Do you wish you’d won more?’ Who doesn’t?” he said. ”There’s also guys who haven’t kept their job as long as me. What I get done with my status, if I don’t win again, I’m going to have 19 years straight. There aren’t a lot of guys who can say that. When you manage to keep your job 16 times in a row, that’s pretty good. It speaks for consistency.”
LEFTY ON THE MEND: Phil Mickelson didn’t think a sports hernia surgery would keep him out very long until he injured it again while practicing for his return. He managed to heal ahead of schedule allowing him to return at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the desert, where he is a tournament ambassador.
And now he’s not going to stop for a while.
Mickelson is in the Phoenix Open this week, his third straight event, with two more to follow. He plans to return to Pebble Beach next week, and then he revealed that he will play the Genesis Open at Riviera.
”If I were going to start 100 percent, it would be about Phoenix,” he said after a tie for 14th at Torrey Pines. ”Yet my game came around quicker than I thought it would, and I felt the best place to sharpen it and see where I was at was to play last week and this week. I’m really glad I did because my touch is starting to come around.”
No one does the West Coast quite like Lefty.
He won in Tucson, Arizona, as an amateur in 1991. He has won the Phoenix Open three times. He has won Pebble Beach four times (Mickelson was runner-up last year), and he won back-to-back at Riviera in 2008-09.
”I’m looking forward to these next three weeks, and I get to play at three spots that I really love,” he said.
Mickelson, who turns 47 in May, has not won since his fifth major at the 2013 British Open.
REED ILLNESS: Organizers of the ISPS Handa World Super 6 in Australia say that Patrick Reed has withdrawn because of a respiratory infection.
Reed is playing the Phoenix Open this week.
The World Super 6 in Perth is still three weeks away. Organizers say the infection keeps Reed from traveling to Australia.
”I am bitterly disappointed not to be competing in the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth event,” Reed said in a statement. ”It was a tournament I was very excited to be playing in. The format had captured my imagination and I was looking forward to the match play component. Withdrawing from the event is not a decision I made lightly. I have done everything I can to make the trip possible, but my health and the advice of doctors is not something I can overlook.”
The World Super 6 is 54 holes of stroke play followed by six-hole match play in the final round.
STEADY HOWELL: Charles Howell III was a runner-up for the 15th time in his PGA Tour career when he finished three shots behind Jon Rahm at Torrey Pines.
But he is trending in the right direction.
Dating to a tie for 15th in Las Vegas, Howell hasn’t finished any worse than that his last five PGA Tour events. He also had top 10s in Mexico and Honolulu. That stretch has moved Howell up to No. 64 in the world ranking.
The world ranking takes on the most significance this time of the year.
The top 50 after the Honda Classic on Feb. 26 get into the World Golf Championship in Mexico. The top 64 after the Valspar Championship on March 13 get into the Dell Match Play. And the top 50 after the Match Play get into the Masters.
No other tournament means more to Howell, an Augusta native who last played the Masters five years ago.
DIVOTS: The PGA Tour announced last week that its tournaments donated more than $166 million to charity in 2016, a record for one year. That includes charity money from all the tours it overseas, including circuits in Canada, Latin America and China. That brings the total to $2.46 billion since the first charitable contribution of $10,000 at the 1938 Palm Beach Invitational. … The USGA has selected two winners for the 2016 Herbert Warren Wind Book Award – Kevin Robbins, who wrote ”Harvey Penick: The Life and Wisdom of the Man Who Write the Book on Golf;” and Peter Lewis, who wrote a book on St. Andrews and the evolution of golf courses called, ”Why Are There Eighteen Holes?” They are to be honored Saturday in Washington at the USGA’s annual meeting. … U.S. Amateur and Asian Amateur winner Curtis Luck of Australia has signed with IMG. He said Tuesday he plans to turn pro after the Masters.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Brittany Lincicome is the first American to win on the LPGA Tour since Brittany Lang at the U.S. Women’s Open on July 10.
FINAL WORD: ”I said, `Come on, mate. You’re married to Gisele, you’re Tom Brady the quarterback and you’re hitting it 20 yards by me. Stop it. Be bad at something.”’ – Graeme McDowell, on playing nine holes with Brady in the Bahamas.