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Perks returns to scene of famous victory

Craig Perks knew what people were thinking and saying a year ago when he shocked the golf world by winning the Players Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass.

The player ranked 203rd in the world had caught lightning in a bottle, was a one-week wonder and would soon settle back into his quiet little world of struggling to make cuts every week and grinding to keep his PGA Tour playing privileges.

How did he know that's what was being said? Easy. He was saying it, too.

"I had been on a pretty decent roll coming in here last year, but after I won, I basically disappeared," he said. "I really didn't want to be one of those guys who had one great week and then was never heard from again."

So, at around the time of the PGA Championship in August, Perks began a major reconstruction of his game. He changed clubs, his swing and, in the process, his outlook.

"I did basically the whole package," Perks, a 36-year-old native of New Zealand, said. "I had gotten sick and tired of being sick and tired about my game. I'm just now starting to see the benefits of that job, and I think there's no doubt I'll be a superior golfer than I was before."

And, in a strange bit of irony, Perks said he likely wouldn't have made the changes had he not won on the Stadium Course a year ago.

"That win gave me five years (exemption) on the Tour, so I could afford to make the changes," he said. "I knew I had to do something, but when you're grinding every week, it's tough to take that risk. I think, however, it would have been a greater risk (for the long-term outlook of his career) to have not made the changes."

His 2003 season has been something less than special, he's missed the cut in half of the eight events he's been in, his highest finish has been a tie for 13th, and he's made only $181,850.

But he admits that once he arrived in northeast Florida, his spirits rose quickly.

"Driving around here, seeing my ugly face up on posters around town, it's been great," he said. "It's just been one big smile on my face the entire week."

That smile might have gotten a little wider after it was announced that the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the world had withdrawn from the Players Championship.

Second-ranked Ernie Els, who started out the year as the latest chosen one to challenge Woods for golf's supremacy, has fizzled somewhat in recent weeks and didn't challenge Woods much at all last week at the Bay Hill Invitational. Turns out he was playing with a sore right wrist that was injured with week before the Bay Hill, an injury that was bad enough to require him to withdraw from the Players yesterday morning.

"Obviously, I am disappointed I couldn't play this week," Els said in a statement. "It is one of the premier events on the PGA Tour , but given the soreness I felt earlier today, I knew there was no way I could play."

Earlier, third-ranked Phil Mickelson pulled out after his wife Amy gave birth to their third child, Evan Samuel, on Sunday night.

That means the tournament will have 48 of the top 50 players in the world when it starts Thursday morning. When it does begin, the outstanding field will be taking on a course that will be a little different than before.

Not that any holes have been changed, necessarily, but an inordinate amount of rainfall has made the Stadium Course much softer than it was a year ago.

Tournament director Brian Goin, who grew up in Penn Hills, said the Jacksonville area has been hit with more than eight inches of rain over the past month and the TPC missed three other storms that could have increased that total.

"Its coming around, day by day," Goin said. "We've had good weather four days in a row now, and it's much better than it was," he said.


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