Pat Perez has always been one of the most interesting players and one of the best quotes on the PGA Tour. At the age of 41, he has become one of the players to beat, as well.
Perez is having a career season, and added to it Sunday with a tie for second with Dustin Johnson in the 15th Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point Golf Club, one shot behind winner Brian Harman at 9-under 279. The finish moves Perez up to fifth in PGA Tour FedExCup points.
He won his second career PGA Tour event in November at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico and began the calendar year with two top-four finishes in his first three tournaments.
Perez said he didn’t expect much coming into the Wells Fargo. He took a planned three-week break from the tour after tying for 70th at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, where he shot an 81 in the third round, and said he played and practiced very little in advance of the tournament.
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“I wasn’t really expecting too much this week, but I putted well. My short game kind of saved me this week because I hit it all over the map,” Perez said. “I was just trying to hit some shots and get ready for next week. This was just kind of a bonus being there.”
Perez shot a 68 in the final round with eight birdies. He made a double bogey on the 14th hole to drop from 9 under to 7 under, but birdied holes 16 and 18 to get back to 9.
“I made double on 14, that killed me, but to have a look at the end, I was really excited about it,” Perez said.
Murray’s quick change
Grayson Murray found a new caddie mid-round Sunday.
Murray, a PGA Tour rookie at 23, was in contention through two round at 4-under 140 but he shot a frustrating 76 in a third round that included 33 putts. After he bogeyed holes 5 and 8 in the final round he sat at 1 over for the tournament and round, and the frustration boiled over in the ninth fairway.
Murray and his caddie, Mike Hicks, a tour veteran who caddied for Payne Stewart, had a falling out. Hicks pushed the bag to the ground, a heated discussion began and Murray called to a friend in the crowd and asked if he wanted to caddie.
Hicks took off his caddie bib and walked off and Murray’s friend put it on and they continued the round.
Murray and Hicks appear to have more than a player-caddie relationship. Murray is from Raleigh and Hicks is a Burlington resident whose son played golf with Murray as juniors before they both attended East Carolina. Hicks also reportedly knows Murray’s father well.
“I’m glad my buddy was out here,” Murray said. “It’s no hard feelings. I mean I love Hicksie. Sometimes frustration gets the best of me and him.”
Hicks essentially came out of retirement to caddie for Murray on the Web.com last year, when Murray won and also had finishes of second and third.
Murray may have commitment issues based on his college career. He was a team member at UNC Greensboro, Wake Forest, East Carolina and Arizona State.
Murray has missed eight of 14 cuts this year but also has three top-12 finishes. He shot a 76 Sunday to tie for 63rd. “I can build on the first two rounds. I had the lead at one point in the first round,” Murray said. “So I’m playing good golf, I just have to put four days together instead of two days.”
Wilcox DQs himself
Willy Wilcox withdrew from the Wells Fargo on Saturday believing he was going to be disqualified from the tournament.
Wilcox had to finish his second round on Saturday morning after play was suspended due to darkness Friday evening, and he employed a different putter when he resumed the second round.
After playing a couple holes with the putter Wilcox realized he may have breached a rule regarding changing equipment during single round, and told The Sun News in a Twitter reply he was led to believe by a tournament rules official that the penalty was a DQ. So he withdrew. He said he received a call from a rules official 20 minutes later giving him the true penalty.
He tweeted: “Made an oops. Changed putters mid-round, overnight, that’s a DQ. Called self on it. Buh bye see ya n Dallas.”
Another tweet was forthcoming, however: “Jus got off phone with head rules official from Tour. It’s a four-shot penalty not a DQ. Jus an fyi.”
Wilcox did in fact break rule 4-4a, which states if a player begins a round with 14 clubs the player must finish the round with the same 14 clubs or fewer, with some stipulations for damaged clubs. But the penalty is two strokes per hole with the maximum penalty of four strokes, not DQ.
He would have been 7 over including the four shots in penalties with the cut looming at 1 over, so Wilcox’s tournament would have been completed Saturday either way once he put the new putter in play, and either way it was a tough result for Wilcox, who is playing this season with conditional status.
Eagle Point received rave reviews from players as a tournament host.
The private Tom Fazio design in northeast Wilmington was a one-year fill-in for Quail Hollow Club, which is preparing to host the PGA Championship in August.
The course was stretched to nearly 7,400 yards in advance of the tournament, and players gushed over the layout and conditioning all week.
“It’s just as pure as pure can be,” said Billy Hurley III, who tied for eighth Sunday. “It’s going to be in the top three best manicured golf courses we play this year. I mean, the greens are just perfect. If you miss a putt, it’s your fault. They’ve done a really nice job here at Eagle Point.”
The wind played a big role in the scores and how the course played, and players with a number of different skills were in contention on the weekend. Winner Brian Harman is 113th in driving distance, while runner-up Dustin Johnson is No. 1 on tour.
“I think the biggest thing is a lot of the holes you can hit driver, but for the long hitters it’s probably not the smartest play so they’re having to kind of play it back to some yardages,” Patrick Reed said. “And then, you know, with how the wind’s blowing, longer hitters normally hit it higher in the air so the ball’s going to be more affected. The guys that don’t hit it as far can flight it a little bit. They’re able to kind of shoot it through the wind or play it underneath the wind.”
Green book ban?
The USGA and R&A recently announced they are considering banning green reading books. Several players were asked about the possible ban during the Wells Fargo Championship, and they generally said they’d be fine with the decision either way.
Green reading books give a comprehensive grade of a green and its slopes, undulations and angles. The elimination of the book could speed up play a little bit, taking away one thing the players can reference before hitting a shot.
Patrick Reed eschewed using the green book this week in an attempt to simplify putting, and it helped him take a lead into the final round before tying for 12th.
“It doesn’t matter if we have them or don’t have them because I don’t rely on it,” Reed said. “… The only thing I think with it, it’s going to speed up play because now guys are going to have to rely on their eyes and at max their caddie’s [eyes]. They’re not going to have two sets of eyes and the green reading book to go back and forth.”