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Perez cards 18 birdies in 36 holes, good for second-round lead

When Pat Perez stepped onto the 13th tee Friday afternoon at the Quail Hollow Club, he trailed his playing partner Lucas Glover by four strokes in the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship.

Glover had made seven birdies in the first 12 holes and was pulling along a sizeable crowd of Clemson fans and friends on what had turned into a sunny afternoon after a thunderstorm had disrupted play earlier.

Earlier in the day, Phil Mickelson had jolted the tournament to life with a second-round 66, Vijay Singh had quietly moved into contention and familiar names were banging around the top the leader board like bumper cars.

Then Perez got involved.

He birdied five of the last six holes Friday afternoon, including a closing combination of birdies at the treacherous 17th and 18th holes and found himself sitting on a two-stroke lead over Bill Haas and Jonathan Byrd when the long day ended.

"It's not what I had in mind when I stepped to the 13th tee," Perez said, shaking his head.

No one goes out thinking they're going to make 18 birdies in the first 36 holes at Quail Hollow, but that's what Perez has done, posting a 12-under par 132 total. It helped that the midday thunderstorm that stopped play for 1 hour, 21 minutes softened the Quail Hollow greens, but no one has done what Perez did.

Glover, who moved backward with two late bogeys that dropped him three off the lead and tied with Mickelson, saw it first-hand.

"He just hit a lot of great shots coming in," Glover said. "The way he's hitting it, the way he's driving it, he's going to be tough to catch."

Golf is about confidence and Perez is suddenly swimming in it after doing a complete overhaul of his golf swing earlier this year. Known for his quick temper and ability to shoot low numbers, Perez left the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles in February after shooting a second-round 80 determined to change his game.

This was no small swing tweak. This was the equivalent of knocking down a few walls, putting in a new floor and changing the lighting.

He went to pro Mark Winkley at his home club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and vented his frustration.

"I couldn't be any more disgusted with my game," said Perez. "I told him I've got to make changes. I can't go down this road."

Winkley had seen the need for changes and was ready, telling Perez he could fix him in five minutes. They arranged to meet on the practice tee on a Monday morning.

For three weeks, eight hours a day, Perez worked on his game. A tie for fifth at the Valero Texas Open and a tie for sixth at The Heritage confirmed he was on the right path.

When Perez pulled an old putter out of a bag at home and ditched cross-handed putting for a conventional style, everything came together.

"The confidence is just getting more and more each day I play," said Perez, who finished tied for 12th here in 2008.

The potential for a weekend shootout is significant. Byrd shook off a double bogey at the par-4 14th hole to stay within a stroke of the lead while Haas quietly stayed near the front.

Glover, meanwhile, is chasing his first top-15 finish this year. He had his game on cruise control until bogeys at Nos. 16 and 17 knocked him back.

"I've been driving home a lot on Fridays, so I'm happy to get to play golf (today)," said Glover, who had missed three straight cuts before coming to Charlotte.

Though John Senden shot 64 and Stewart Cink posted a 65 in the afternoon, it was Mickelson who energized the property Friday morning both before and after the thunderstorm stopped play at 10:51 a.m.

Mickelson had a bogey-free round that put him in position for another weekend run at a championship in which he has five top-7 finishes but no victories.

"I was thinking of going low (Friday)," Mickelson said. "(Thursday) I was just kind of fighting to keep the game in check. It was an important day because I was able to use the short game to keep myself in it and shoot something under par so that when I get a hot day like (Friday) it's able to move me up the leader board."

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