CHARLOTTE, N.C. — On March 11, Pat Perez thought he’d blown out his Achilles, having injured himself in the gym of all places. It turned out instead to be a grade 2 calf strain.
Though he missed nearly two months, it also turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise.
Making just his second start since returning at last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Perez came into this week’s Wells Fargo Championship with little expectation.
“[The pressure] would definitely be more [if not for the injury] because I really played horrible on the West Coast and then obviously getting hurt,” said Perez, who is a stroke off the lead heading into the final round at Quail Hollow after a five-under 66 on Saturday. “It’s like, man, there's a waste of a year.”
Now Perez will have a chance for his first win since the fall of 2017.
The other benefit of the time off was that while Perez was already working on some swing changes—those around him, including a trainer who works on balance with mixed martial arts fighters, felt his stance was always too narrow—when the 43-year-old did return to practicing he focused on opening his hips and widening his stance to gain more power. In today’s distance race, it was a change he felt was necessary as he moves into the latter stages of his career.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve hit some shots this week that I haven’t seen since I was a kid, really,” said Perez, who had five birdies in the third round and has made just two bogeys all week. “It’s been awesome. I’ll tell [my caddie], I cannot believe the shot I just saw. You see like Jason Day and Rory [McIlroy], these top players, awesome players, like how the hell do they do it, and I’m starting to hit a couple of these now. I think I got some new life in my old age here.”
Case in point: He drove the 306-yard, par-4 14th on Saturday, setting up an easy two-putt birdie. On the 588-yard 15th, he had just a 7-wood into the green. He’s hitting it longer with his irons, too.
“I’m a little surprised that I played this well so far, but it’s nice,” Perez said. “I was really trying to grind enough just to get in the [FedEx Cup] playoffs and then kind of really get on it for the start of next year, but hopefully if some things go right tomorrow I can do something nice.”
The pain of the calf strain is still high, Perez said, and he’s been receiving treatment throughout the week with a sleeve that goes over the leg and helps with swelling and circulation.
But this isn’t entirely unfamiliar territory for the three-time PGA Tour winner.
In 2016, Perez underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, returning eight months later. When he did? He won in just his third start back.