CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Pat Perez is used to no one paying close attention, even when there are plenty of people around.
There were plenty watching when he birdied five of the last six holes for a 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship. He's just not sure they were there for him.
Here's some recent history on Perez and not-so-big crowds.
A few years ago in Shanghai, he was playing the back nine of Sheshan International when he looked around and saw only two spectators, one of them his wife. That led to the kind of self-deprecation that makes Perez so popular among his peers.
"It made me realize I'm actually a nobody," Perez said that day. "I thought I was decently somebody, but this confirms it. In worldwide golf, I'm a nobody."
Then there was last week, when he was caught in the middle of the reported profanity-filled argument between Rory Sabbatini and Sean O'Hair on the 14th hole in New Orleans. There are a lot of wild stories going around about what was said and how it started. And while Perez refused to go into details in an interview earlier this week, he noted that only three players, three caddies, the scorer and standardbearer knew what happened because no one else was watching.
That brings it back to Friday, when he played before a big gallery. The best score for the longest time belonged to Lucas Glover, who grew up in South Carolina and went to Clemson. He was 6 under through 10 holes after rolling in a 70-foot birdie putt, and it did not escape Perez that a number of fans wore orange shirts that featured a Tiger's paw.
"That putt he made on 10, the crowd went crazy," Perez said. "They're all Clemson fans out there, so they're all for him. They didn't know I was there."
He was hard to miss a short time later.
Standing on the 13th tee, four shots behind Glover, Perez faced a stretch of Quail Hollow that can be equal parts tricky and difficult, rarely time to think about making birdies on just about every hole.
But he hit a beautiful shot to a front pin on 13 for birdie, followed with two more birdies, then finished strong. First came a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th, and a shot he fired at the back pin on the 18th to 8 feet behind the hole for another.
He wound up at 12-under 132 and with a two-shot lead over Bill Haas (70) and Jonathan Byrd, another guy with a Clemson following who recovered from a bunker-to-bunker-to-water double bogey on the 14th hole for a 68.
Another shot behind were Phil Mickelson (66) and Glover, who went from a four-shot lead over Perez to three shots behind over the last six holes with a combination of Perez turning into a birdie machine and Glover making two bogeys over the last three holes. Glover still had a 68 and was thrilled to be in the hunt.
Actually, he was thrilled to be playing.
This hasn't been the best of years for the former U.S. Open champion, having missed his last three cuts.
"I've been driving home a lot on Fridays, so I'm happy to get to play golf tomorrow," Glover said.
For Perez, it's much better to be a 36-hole leader than a referee, which is what it must have felt like to be the third wheel in the Main Event between Sabbatini and O'Hair last week in New Orleans.
"Sean O'Hair is one of the greatest guys in the world. I love playing with him," Perez said. "And Rory has his moments. I've always gotten along with Rory. I know how to deal with him. For the most part, Rory doesn't even bother me in the least. It was a tough situation, and I'm hoping it never happens again because you never like to see two players go at it.
"But yeah, it was great to be on the course, and I knew I was playing well," he said. "Just nice to have peace on the course, and having some laughs and all that kind of stuff. It was nice. It was fun."
It was better than that. Perez has made so many birdies — 18 in two days — that he couldn't even keep track.
The question now is how many more he needs to make going into a weekend that is shaping up to be a good show, especially with the rest of the weather — a 90-minute rain delay in the morning — out of the way.
Vijay Singh, who is at No. 54 in the world and needs to play well in the next three weeks to avoid U.S. Open qualifying, struck the ball well for the second straight day and shot 68 to reach 8-under 136, along with former British Open champion Stewart Cink (65) and Carl Pettersson, the Swede who went to school in North Carolina. He had a 68.
Ten players were within five shots of Perez going into the weekend.
Mickelson matched his best score in 30 rounds at Quail Hollow and showed why he can be such a big attraction. No one ever knows what's coming next. After back-to-back birdies, he drove into the water on the 14th, took a penalty shot, and fired a wedge from 139 yards to a back pin to tap-in range for par.
Then came a 30-foot birdie on the 18th, and he made the turn with his confidence surging.
"Today I was thinking of going low," Mickelson said. "Yesterday I was just kind of fighting to keep the round in check. Yesterday was an important day because I was able to use my short game to keep myself in it and shoot something under par so that when I get a hot day like today where I'm making a few putts, making some birdies, it's able to move me up the leaderboard rather than just get me back in the middle of the pack."