After posting scores of 63-66 the first two days, Augusta’s Scott Parel took a 5-stroke lead into Sunday’s final round of a Champions Tour event in Des Moines, Iowa, and appeared headed for his third win since last August.
Following Saturday’s second round, Parel made a comment to the media that turned out to be unfortunately prophetic.
“I like how I’m playing. Somebody’s going to have to play good to beat me. I’ve played with these guys enough to know that somebody is going to shoot 7-to-9-under. There’s no let up.”
Parel played a respectable final round, shooting 2-under 70 to finish with a tournament record total of 17-under 199. Parel’s 54-hole total was not enough to win the tournament outright, as Kevin Sutherland set the course record with a 10-under 62 Sunday, notching birdies on eight of his last nine holes.
That sent Parel and Sutherland to extra holes for a second time this season, and while Sunday’s playoff did not last as long as the 7-hole, 2-day affair in Biloxi two months earlier, the result was the same.
Sutherland birdied the second extra hole to defeat Parel, who has not had much success in playoffs over the past year. In addition to his two playoff losses this season to Sutherland, Parel lost at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth last year to Steve Flesch in a 3-way playoff that also included Bernhard Langer.
Parel’s runner-up finish in Des Moines was his eighth over the past two years, including four in 2018 and three more this season. Both his wins came in 2018 along with an unofficial victory in a season-opening tournament that came in a playoff.
For almost the entire final round, it appeared that Parel was going to collect his third official Champions Tour title. Although playing partner Jerry Kelly cut into Parel’s 5-stroke lead, he stayed in front despite his first bogey of the tournament on his second hole Sunday.
Parel rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on the sixth and added another birdie on the par-5 eighth to maintain his advantage. Sutherland began mounting a charge with a string of birdies on the back nine, but Parel answered with a delicate downhill birdie putt on the 12th and another on the 13th after reaching the green in two on the par 5.
With a chance to lock up his victory with a birdie at the par-5 15th, Parel instead made bogey after an errant tee shot into thick rough, dropping him into a tie for the lead with Sutherland, who shot 28 on the back nine.
Parel had chances for birdies on the closing holes, but just missed a birdie chip on the 16th and watched as a long birdie putt on the 17th again missed by inches. He had a last chance at the short, par-4 18th, but his putt to win from about 10 feet was hit too tentatively.
After leaving another potential winning putt short on the first playoff hole from a similar length as his miss on the same hole in regulation, Parel missed for a third straight time on the 18th green from around 10 feet. This time Sutherland made him pay for it, holing a slightly shorter putt for his 11th birdie in the last 15 holes.
Low scores are nothing new for Sutherland, who is the only player to shoot 59 on the Champions Tour and also has shot 60 since turning 50.
Parel carded 15 birdies in his first two rounds against no bogeys, and while he did not play poorly in the final round, he only needed to par the vulnerable 15th to secure the win.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said after his playoff loss. “I should have never been in a playoff to begin with.”
When Parel and Sutherland wound up in a playoff in late March in Biloxi, it was Parel who made up ground in the final round, coming from six shots back with a 69, while tournament leader Sutherland shot 75 that day with no birdies in difficult conditions.
Sutherland played 23 holes that day without making a birdie, with the playoff halted after five holes due to darkness. When play resumed the next morning, Sutherland birdied the seventh extra hole for the win.
Parel, who is in his fourth full season on the Champions Tour, has been a frequent contender over the past two years, beginning with a tie for second in the Tradition in Birmingham in 2017. Langer broke away from the field with a final round 64 to finish five ahead of Parel, who closed with a 70.
After beginning 2018 with an unofficial season-opening victory in south Florida, Parel suffered through several near-misses before finally claiming his first official title. He made a run at a win in Biloxi, tying for third, before shooting a final round 64 at Sugarloaf to get into a playoff after starting the final round seven off the lead.
Parel also placed second in Des Moines in 2018 in a tournament shortened to 36 holes. He shot 66 the final day, but lost by two to Tom Lehman, who closed with a 65. He won last summer in Seattle, coming from five off Sutherland’s lead with a final round 63 to win by three.
The next week, Parel shot 62 in the final round in Calgary, but Scott McCarron shot 63 to edge him by one. Parel was a distant second behind Langer in Raleigh before picking up his second win in two months in a Playoffs event in Los Angeles.
Parel has added three more runner-up finishes this year, finishing two behind McCarron in Houston in early May after shooting 66 in the final round to McCarron’s 67.
Prior to joining the Champions Tour, Parel had just one win above the mini-tour level in his 20 years as a tour pro, that coming in a Web.com Tour event in Wichita in 2013 at the age of 48. He played on the tour from 2003 to ’15, but never made it to the PGA Tour.
Parel made five career PGA Tour starts, the first two in the U.S. Open in 2002 and ’05. He made his only cut in the 2006 BellSouth Classic at Sugarloaf, shooting 66 the first day and 69 in the final round, and again made the field as a Monday qualifier in the final PGA Tour stop at Sugarloaf in ’08, but missed the cut.
After turning 50 in the summer of 2015, Parel began competing on the Champions Tour as a Monday qualifier, and played his way into a number of events in 2016, making enough starts to finish 46th on the final money list with earnings of $336, 400.
Parel closed out 2016 by finishing first in the finals of Champions Tour qualifying, and was able to play a full schedule in 2017, moving up to 21st on the money list with $876,840, highlighted by his tie for second in the Tradition.
With two wins and four runner-up finishes, Parel increased his 2018 earnings to $1,854,190, third on the Champions Tour behind only Langer and McCarron. Parel is currently sixth with more than $773,000.
Parel’s unique path to the Champions Tour has become familiar to golf fans. He did not play on the golf team at the U. of Georgia, and spent the first decade after his graduation in 1986 in the computer programming field, not turning pro until his early 30s. He spent years at the mini-tour level before making it to the Web.com Tour in 2003.
After playing on the tour full time for six of seven years from 2003 to ’09, Parel lost his status for two years before enjoying his two most successful seasons in his late 40s in 2012 and ’13. He came close to earning his PGA Tour card both years, but twice finished in the mid 30s on the money list (only the top 25 made it to the PGA Tour) and was never able to finish high enough in Q-school to qualify.
Parel was one of three Georgians to enjoy a successful tournament last week in Des Moines.
Savannah’s Gene Sauers tied for fifth to move up from 42 to 28 on the money list. He has finished 26th or better in each of his first six seasons on the tour. Atlanta’s Billy Andrade tied for 11th and moved up one spot from 13 to 12. Andrade has been in the top 30 in all five of his seasons on the tour, and was fourth in 2013, when he captured all three of his Champions Tour titles. Andrade was third in Biloxi, one shot out of the first Parel-Sutherland playoff, and tied for second in the Tradition in Birmingham, a Champions Tour major.
Duluth’s Scott Dunlap returned to action for the first time since off-season wrist surgery and made the cut in the PGA Senior Championship, but has not played since.