LA QUINTA, Calif. — Pat Perez expected to hit a rough spot or two over the long grind of the Bob Hope Classic.
His sensational putting from the first two rounds of the five-day tournament deserted him for the first nine holes of the third. He found his touch again after the turn, birdied five holes and finished with a 5-under 67 Friday to maintain a two-shot lead.
“In 90 holes, you’re going to go through a stretch like that and you’re just not going to be hot,” Perez said of his 1-under 35 at the turn, a mediocre score in the low-scoring Hope.
After opening with rounds of 61 and 63 to complete the first 36 holes at 20 under, unprecedented in PGA Tour history, Perez was at 25-under 191 heading into the final 36 holes of the tournament.
He played the first two days on the Palmer and Nicklaus courses at PGA West, and moved to SilverRock Resort for the third round. Four courses are used for the first four days, which are a pro-am. The low-scoring 70 pros, and ties, go it alone at the Palmer course on Sunday.
He said he had never played SilverRock before, “So I was kind of worried about some of the holes.”
“I knew it was going to be tough over there and I thought I got out with a pretty good score. And I’ve still got the lead,” said Perez, who has a pair of second-place finishes on the tour but hasn’t won a title.
He didn’t match the tour record of 189 for the first 54 holes of a tournament, shared by three players and last accomplished by Tommy Armour on a par-70 course in the 2003 Texas Open. The PGA Tour does not keep a record of lowest 54 holes against par.
Steve Stricker shot an 11-under 61 to move into second at 23 under. Vaughn Taylor’s 64 left him another shot back at 194. Jason Dufner, who made it into the tournament when Anthony Kim withdrew Tuesday because of a sore shoulder, stayed in contention with a 67 that left him in a group of four at 195.
Taylor wasn’t surprised that his 22 under was only good enough for third.
“It’s the Hope and the weather is good,” he said. “Sometimes we play such difficult courses and difficult conditions and it’s good to have a change of pace where you feel like you can just go out and aim at flags and make birdies and just have fun.”
Tom Pernice Jr., whose 31 on his first nine at Burmuda Dunes briefly gave him the lead at 21 under before Perez had teed off, had a 37 on the back and was in a group of five at 196.
Defending champion D.J. Trahan shot a 65 to move within striking distance of the lead, six shots off Perez’s pace.
Stricker, who played the Palmer course, wasn’t expecting to shoot as low as he did.
“I wasn’t thinking 11 under,” he said. “But I was thinking about putting up a good solid 8-, 9-under round and fortunately I was able to get back up there. I made up some ground today.”