LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Remaining calm despite the swirling wind and a tense duel for the lead, Pat Perez finally got his first PGA Tour victory – with a lot of help from Steve Stricker.
Perez won the Bob Hope Classic on Sunday, taking advantage of Stricker’s collapse and holding off John Merrick by three strokes. The winner shot a 3-under 69 for a 33-under 327 total in the five-day event.
“I just tried to stay pretty even-keeled,” Perez said. “I figured if I could just play solid and hit some good shots and kind of stay calm and think about what I’m doing out there, I was going to be fine.”
In the past, “calm” wasn’t necessarily a word used about Perez and his play. He seemed quick to anger and grow frustrated when he wasn’t playing well.
“I just got tired of getting upset all the time,” the 32-year-old Perez said. “It’s a lot of energy. I learned how the best guys do it.”
Mentioning Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, among others, Perez said, “All these guys are pretty even-keeled. They don’t let things bother them. They put stuff behind them. Before, if I made a double on five, the tournament was over. I look at that as a speed bump now.”
After hitting into the water and dropping to 29 under on the fifth hole, Perez steadied and still made the turn at 35.
Merrick, who began the day eight shots behind Stricker but moved in front briefly on the back nine, shot a 67.
Stricker, 33 under at the start of play after rounds of 61 and 62, had a 77 to tie for third with Mike Weir (67) at 28 under. Stricker had a triple bogey on No. 7 and a quadruple bogey on No. 10, hitting into the water on both holes.
Perez, playing in the final group, locked up the victory by knocking his approach shot over the water from 200 yards on No. 18 to 3 feet to set up an eagle. Merrick, winless on the tour, already had finished his round with a par on 18.
Perez didn’t consider playing it safe on the final hole.
“I don’t lay up,” Perez said. “I hit a 6-iron. I mean, how hard is it? I’m not going to lay up with a wedge over here and hit a wedge over there. It’s a 6-iron. I was going to hit it.”
He beamed and doffed his cap after the ball rolled onto the green and the fans in the grandstands erupted in cheers. He stopped grinning only briefly, while he was bending over his final putt.
Merrick’s second-place finish was the highest for the 26-year-old former UCLA star, who is beginning his third full season on the tour. His round included an extraordinarily lucky bounce on No. 16, when his shot from the fairway seemed headed for a small canal next to the green. The ball hit the concrete lining the waterway, bounced across the water and rolled within 10 feet of the hole. He two-putted for par.
“That’s probably one of the luckiest breaks I’ve ever seen,” Merrick said.
Perez, who led the first three days of the 90-hole event before falling three shots off Stricker’s pace, had said the ideal conditions made the early rounds “like playing in a dome.”
Not so for closing over the Palmer Course at PGA West.
Club selection, figuring distance and direction, all became a challenge. The wind would quiet one moment, then gust and swirl the next. Flagsticks on the greens rocked back and forth with the flags flapping, go still, then just as suddenly begin shuddering again.
Perez considered that a positive for him.
“If the weather was perfect, someone could have shot 61 or 61,” Perez said. “So I actually didn’t mind the wind blowing all the way around. But it was definitely tough.”
The gusts took their toll on Stricker.
“We would feel it in our face on one hole, and the same hole it would feel downwind. So it was all over the place and difficult to pick a correct club,” Stricker said. “It was hard for me to feel comfortable with anything, and it showed for me a couple of times today.”
After hitting into the water and taking a triple bogey to lose the lead on the seventh hole, he found water again on No. 10, but only after hitting out of bounds. His quadruple bogey there dropped him back into the pack.
Stricker, who had the PGA Tour-record stretch of 61-62 the previous two days, had birdied No. 6 to go to 34 under and open a three-stroke lead over Perez.
Joe Durant’s tour record for 90 holes, 36-under 324 in the 2001 Hope, seemed in peril as records fell in the early rounds. Then the wind, often a factor in the Hope over the years, finally kicked up on the final day.
Perez earned $918,000, while Stricker took home $295,800.
Stricker was 33 under after four rounds, bettering the tour’s 72-hole record of 31 under set by Ernie Els in his victory at the 2003 Mercedes Championships. Stricker’s 61-62 was a low for consecutive rounds; Mark Calcavecchia set the record by shooting 60-64 in the 2001 Phoenix Open, and Perez tied it with his 61-63 start in the Hope.