Perhaps it’s pragmatism brought on by a career spent in relative mediocrity until the Indian summer of the last 12 months, but Pat Perez is not spending too much time worrying about the very real prospect of a Ryder Cup debut, aged 42.
The American has enjoyed a “phenomenal” 14 months, during which he’s vaulted up the rankings thanks to some superb form, including two wins and six top 10 finishes.
The 41-year-old American was ranked as low as 350th in the world in October 2016, before his superb surge – which has seen him climb to 17th, unsurprisingly his highest ever position.
A tied third finish at the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii last January saw him jump into the top 100 for the first time since Valentines Day, 2010.
It’s form that Perez hasn’t ever produced. Even his heyday, if you can call it that, was a decade ago, in his late 20s and early 30s, when he recorded his best major finishes of tied 36th at the US Open (2008), tied 20th at the Open Championship (2007) and tied sixth at the PGA Championship (2005).
His resurgence is something that could very well see him become one of the oldest rookies to ever feature for America at a Ryder Cup –Fred Funk, at 48, was the oldest when he made captain Hal Sutton’s team 14 years ago at Oakland Hills Country Club.
But after he was self-critical of his -5 under par 67 on the third day of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic Saturday, which leaves him nine shots off the lead of Chona’s Li Haotong, Perez isn’t getting as carried away as the rest of us.
“it’s so far away. Obviously, it’d be amazing to play for my country, but it’s too far away, there’s a lot of tournaments left, so we’ll see,” said Perez of his Ryder Cup chances.
“It’d be an amazing honour to play for my country but in the grand scheme of things, it’s the thing I’m worrying about least at the moment.
“I’m not going to worry about the Ryder Cup in the least. I’ve got two others goals. I’d love to somehow play well enough to get inside the top 10, I want to get back to the Tour Championship.
“If those two things happen then I’ll more than likely have enough points to go to the Ryder Cup.”
One reason for the Arizona native’s reluctance to get giddy about his chances of making captain Jim Furyk’s team is that despite his recent resurgence, his form isn’t being rewarded, in terms of Ryder Cup points.
Perez currently stands 17th in the US Ryder Cup rankings, with the top eight earning automatic selection for this year’s tournament, in Paris.
Yet, despite winning the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur last October, Perez received no Ryder Cup points for his efforts. The same was true of his tied fifth finish at the CJ Cup, South Korea’s first PGA Tour event, a week later.
Asked about his Ryder Cup chances at Emirates Golf Club following his round Saturday, Perez responded: “Nothing really, because I haven’t got any points in that fall series.
“They’ve kinda hamstrung me there a little bit. Our committee doesn’t really feel those tournaments are important enough to have points so I feel a bit of bitterness towards that, but it’s there call, it’s not my call.
“I’m gonna try and play well tomorrow, go home, get some more tournaments played well and see what happens.”
A scintillating front nine Saturday put Perez right in contention for a title on his debut in Dubai. Five birdies and an eagle saw him make the turn in 30, matched only by Tyrrell Hatton.
But he finished the back nine +2 over, which led to a fairly savage self-assessment of his round.
“I think it was luck,” he said, speaking of his front nine.
“The real stuff came on the back. I’m not worried about that (chances of winning). These guys are going to be well ahead. It’ll take a miracle.”
Asked what went wrong on a back nine that included seven pars and two bogeys, he added: “A lot of things. I don’t have an answer. I played 45 terrible holes and nine miraculous holes, that’s about it. Nothing really other than that.”
Five shots adrift as he came off 18, Perez would have then seen Haotong, Rory McIlroy, Andy Sullivan, Haydn Porteous and Alexander Levy pull ahead. And Perez was left in no doubt he has no chance to win today.
“I’m not really worried about it to be honest with you,” he said.
“I’m going to play tomorrow, we’ll see what happens, then I’m gonna go home. That’s all I can do. Every day is the same, you try and shoot as well as you can. Hopefully you do and I just haven’t had my best stuff this week.
“It’s been unfortunate because I love the course, I think it’s amazing, I’m just not getting anything out of it. Very frustrating.”
Even though he claimed his front nine was the only decent golf he’s played this week, he said that is a more accurate reflection of his game in the last year or so.
“I’ve been playing good for a year now so I’m not really surprised, I’m more surprised playing the other way on the other side. It’s a pretty disappointing day really.”
And despite being left frustrated by his game, he said that the current state of his game and the way he’s played since coming back from shoulder surgery which had seen him drop so low over the course of the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Perez’s victory at the 2016 OHL Classic at Mayakoba was his maiden win in seven years. He was also the first player since Harrison Frazar (at the 2011 St. Jude Classic) to win a PGA Tour event while playing on a medical extension.
So he admits he has to curb his frustration, especially with the Ryder Cup a possibility.
“It’s phenomenal,” he said of his recent rise.
“It’s been a hell of a ride, I’m just trying to enjoy it. It’s great, the odds were against me when I came back. I’ve done a great job of getting myself in this position.
“I’m just excited about being here. I’m just gonna try to keep moving up. It’s gonna take some better play than this week but I’ve got a lot of golf left so I’m excited about that.”
China’s Li Haotong displayed his superstar potential as he outscored Rory McIlroy by four shots in the third round to take a one-shot lead into the final day of the $3 million Dubai Desert Classic.
Starting his third round on Saturday trailing leader McIlroy by three shots, the 22-year-old Li put together a superb round of eight-under-par 64 to finish on 20-under after 54 holes.
Four-time major champion McIlroy came back to the course early in the morning to complete his second round and made five birdies in seven holes.
However, he could not get going in the third round and found himself one-over at the turn. But a much better back nine gave him a third-round 68 and three-day tally of 19-under 197.
Frenchman Alex Levy had a hole in one at the fourth en route to a 65, and he is tied third at 17 under par with South African youngster Haydn Porteous, who also shot 65. England’s Andy Sullivan made a big move with a 63 to rise to fifth place at 200.
Li made four birdies on either half of the golf course and never looked in trouble because of his impressive ball-striking. Even when he was not hitting it close, his short game saved him on a couple of occasions, including a good up-and-down on the 14th hole.
“Played really solid. Especially had a couple up-and-downs and was quite happy to shoot eight-under on this course,” said Li, who will become the first male Chinese player to crack the top 50 in the world rankings if he goes on to win.
“I just wanted to play by myself and play my game. I thought if I just stayed patient, I will play good. So just did that all day.”
McIlroy, winner of the tournament in 2009 and 2015, is looking to become the second three-time champion here after Ernie Els.
A couple of loose drives resulted in a par on the par-5 third hole and a bogey on the par-4 eighth, and there was another dropped shot on the par-3 fourth hole.
But the world number 11, who made a comeback to competitive golf after more than 100 days out last week in Abu Dhabi, fought back on the back nine.
“Hopefully that’s the bad one out of the way. I didn’t get off to too bad a start, just a couple of loose ones. Missed a short one on the fourth and made bogey on eighth,” said McIlroy.
“That wasn’t too good. But to come back with a 5-under back nine was good. It was good to knock that birdie in at the last and stay within one of Li.
“I’ll probably need to play a bit better tomorrow to win, but you know, it’s two weeks into the season and I’ve given myself a second chance to win a tournament. Looking forward to tomorrow.”
Levy aced the par-3 fourth hole and made five consecutive birdies from the ninth hole in his 65, while Porteous closed with three birdies in his last three holes.
Rory McIlroy stormed into the lead at the Dubai Desert Classic as he completed his delayed second round with a stunning 64.
The Northern Irishman birdied the 12th, 13th, 16th, 17th and 18th to surge two shots clear of Jamie Donaldson on 15 under par.
Fog had delayed play for nearly three hours on Friday which meant McIlroy, Segio Garcia and Henrik Stenson were unable to finish their second round.
Resuming play on the 12th hole early on Saturday, the 28-year-old showed his class to edge into the lead on his second competitive tournament back in nearly four months.
“That was pretty nice,” said McIlroy.
“I knew with the conditions this morning there were chances out there, obviously with the two par fives and 17.
“To take care of those and birdie a couple others, to finish five under for my last seven was a nice way to finish this morning.
“I didn’t really have a score in mind or anything. I just wanted to go out there and play a good seven holes and hopefully get myself into contention for the last couple of rounds.
“I sort of did that and maybe a little bit more and it’s nice to go into the weekend in the lead.
“Probably got a bit of a break between now and going back out there so I’ll probably get a little bit of physio treatment, make sure everything’s okay and hit some balls and practise.
“Look forward to getting out there again this afternoon.”