Rewind back to the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St George’s and towering Frenchman Victor Perez occupies the coveted final automatic qualifying spot for Pàdraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup side in Whistling Straits as he hunts a rookie appearance for Europe in the biennial contest.
This just weeks after Perez reached a career-high 29th in the world rankings courtesy of a 4th place finish in the WGC Matchplay in Texas. All seemed to be going right for the 30-year-old.
Since then, it has been a downward spiral, his Ryder Cup bid went up in smoke and he had become the forgotten man of European golf, until now… Even a win at the Dutch Open last year did little to raise any eyebrows.
Perez’s bunker shot – and celebration – on 17 will live long in the memory and his first Rolex Series title at last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has thrust him into contention for a Ryder Cup berth in September.
The now world number 63 climbed 19 places on the European Points List into second place, overtaking Rory McIlroy in the process who gets his 2023 season underway on Thursday.
“I got off to a good start, and I was just focusing on me and trying to do the best I can because I knew you can’t control what everybody else is doing, and I was just trying to plod along.
“But Seb (Söderberg) played fantastic and was right there and never gave me an opening. I’m delighted to finish on top. It was a crazy finish, but I feel like I’m used to that now. Hopefully I can make it a little easier for the next one.
“It’s a great year ahead. There’s a lot of big things coming up. I’ve had a really good off-season. I’ve worked really hard.”
Since his 2021 Ryder Cup bid, the Dundee resident had fallen outside the top-150 in the world, a ranking completely unbecoming of a player of that calibre.
Perez caught the eye at the Hero Cup a fortnight ago as he came away as joint top points scorer for Continental Europe with 3.5 points from a possible four.
It was clear that the Hero Cup served a purpose with six of the top-10 in Abu Dhabi, playing in the team competition the week prior and Perez was the ultimate beneficiary.
European golf has been on a trophy laden run since the summer and with that has come the emergence of some depth that didn’t seem like it was on the surface in Whistling Straits.
In players like Perez, Seamus Power, Thomas Pieters, Sepp Straka, Guido Migliozzi, the Hojgaard’s, Bob MacIntyre, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Alex Noren, Adrian Meronk and Francesco Molinari there is a cohort of players around the same level in terms of ability and world ranking.
Should it come down to it, captain Luke Donald will certainly have a selection headache when it comes to making wildcard selections.
Meanwhile, Jon Rahm won for the fourth time in six worldwide starts at the American Express on the PGA Tour, confirming that while he may not have the coveted world number one spot – through no fault of his own – he is the best player in the world on form by a country mile.
The Spaniard can go to world number one this week at Torrey Pines with a win. Rahm already has two wins on site including the 2021 US Open and has not finished outside the top-7 in his last four starts.
Rahm is guaranteed a place on the Ryder Cup team for Europe in Rome and is currently head and shoulders above the rest as he tops both the European and World Points Lists.
Currently, Rahm, Perez and McIlroy occupy the top-3 on the European Points List while Viktor Hovland, Noren and Shane Lowry are sitting in the top three positions on the World Points List.
But it is still very early and with the second Rolex Event of the season teeing off on Thursday, another opportunity knocks for a European hopeful to bank double Ryder Cup points and put themselves in a fantastic position to launch a Ryder Cup bid this year.