Golf: Perez basks in Indian summer

CIMB Classic is 2nd win in a year after 8-year drought, Thomas' bid for hat-trick fizzles out

KUALA LUMPUR • Pat Perez, 41, burnished his late bloomer credentials with his second victory in a year, while 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas finished tied for 17th at the CIMB Classic yesterday.

Perez teed off with a four-shot lead at TPC Kuala Lumpur and a three-under 69 for a 264 total was enough for the American to become the US$7 million (S$9.4 million) Asian and PGA Tour co-sanctioned event's oldest winner.

Two-time defending champion Thomas at least finished with a flourish, a 67 for a 277 total, to be tied for joint-17th.

"I was definitely low on gas," said the in-form world No. 4, who won the FedExCup just last month. "It's been a great but long year, for sure."

Success has also become more habitual for Perez, the Arizona native, since his recovery from shoulder surgery 18 months ago.

After claiming his first title at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic, he had to wait nearly eight years for his second breakthrough at the OHL Classic in Mexico last November.

It came in his best season, when he recorded six top-10 finishes, qualified for the season-ending Tour Championship and eventually finished 15th in the FedExCup.

Pat Perez celebrating with the CIMB Classic trophy yesterday. He held off big names like Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama to win.
Pat Perez celebrating with the CIMB Classic trophy yesterday. He held off big names like Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama to win. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

"Everything is just going unbelievable," he said greenside after finishing four shots ahead of runner-up Keegan Bradley (67). "It's been a lot of work and a lot of dedication, and it's just coming together."

On his 403rd start, Perez's putter ran hot all week, with rounds of 66, 65 and 64. This was made possible by him hitting the joint-most greens in regulation, even though he was just joint-ninth for putts and tied for 13th in driving accuracy.

And there was no evidence of final-round nerves as he rolled in three consecutive birdies from the second hole to extend his lead on a day of energy-sapping heat.

He brushed off a lone bogey on the par-four sixth with a fourth birdie on the eighth, before coasting with 10 consecutive pars.

It helped that none of his rivals rose to the challenge, with nearest contender Xander Schauffele, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, bumbling through an even-par 72 to finish joint third with South Korea's Kang Sung Hoon.

Kang kept pace through his opening nine, but his hopes were ended with a double-bogey on the par-five 10th and he finished with a 71.

Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner, closed with a bogey-free 67, but was left to rue a poor second round that left him with too much ground to make up.

After pocketing a US$1.26 million cheque and winning so early in the season, Perez said he had no plans to change his goals, his lifestyle or his "bad diet".

"Like you said, I'm a late bloomer... I'm not going to change anything," he added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Perez basks in indian summer'. Print Edition | Subscribe