PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Pat Perez isn't exactly going out on a limb when he said Wednesday that he expects Tiger Woods to contend this week at the Players, this even after his close-up look at the crooked swings Woods was producing during Tuesday's practice round, when the No. 1 player in the world hit into the water five times.
"I don't know why everyone is so worried about his golf. He's played two tournaments," said Perez, who has competed against Woods dating back to junior golf in California.
Woods never looked more lost on the golf course than he did last week in missing the cut badly at the Quail Hollow Championship, and it appeared Tuesday that his swing remained discombobulated. But later on the practice range, Perez saw a change.
"He started getting his hands inside, and he didn't miss a shot for half-an-hour," Perez said. "I'm not saying he's going to win. Of course, we all know he could win. But if you saw what I saw on the range, you'd have to think he's going to be right there at the end."
Perez might have seen Woods make a better pass at the ball, but what he's still waiting for is for the game's top-ranked player to ditch his more passive on-course demeanor that he had on display at Quail Hollow Club. That's not the Woods he knows.
"He needs to get that fire back in him," said Perez, 34, who made a name for himself in 1993 by winning Junior World while Woods finished eight back in fourth place. "He needs to get that 'I'm going to beat your ass, you know I'm going to beat your ass, and here it comes.' ... That's what made him great. You can't change that.
"Whatever he was doing before is how he needs to get back to playing golf. His fierceness and feistiness - that's all that will make him great again. But he can't because he has all these eyes on him, judging him. 'Oh, my God, did you see that? He spit again. We gotta talk about that for 20 minutes on the Golf Channel.' Or it's 'He hit five balls in the water. He's done, he's gone, his game is over.'
"I've seen him all the way through junior golf. We grew up together. Played all the same divisions in junior golf, high school, college. I've seen him go through the whole thing. He's going through a bad patch right now on the outside, and there's no human alive that can't affect, inside. The golf that will come around. He's got to get himself right in the mind. That's hard. You've got everybody on him. Everybody's staring at him, everybody talking about him, the media all over him all the time. He can't get away from it.
"But he'll be back. He's too great not to be back. He'll figure it out. He's a really smart guy. But everyone just needs to leave him alone and let him play golf."
-- *Dave Shedloski