After winning twice on the Champions Tour in 2018, Augusta’s Scott Parel was unable to add to his victory total last year, letting a number of excellent opportunities elude him.
Parel lost twice in playoffs, finished two shots behind the winner for a third runner-up finish and was unable to convert a pair of leads going to the final round into wins later in the season, one in a major and the other in a Playoffs event.
Both of his 2018 titles came in tournaments in which he trailed going to the final round, and Parel followed that path Sunday to his third Champions Tour triumph, firing an 8-under 63 to turn a 3-stroke deficit after 36 holes into a 2-shot victory in Naples, Fla.
Parel began the final round in a tie for sixth, and was two groups in front of the final pairing, with Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and 2019 nemesis Kevin Sutherlandamong the players ahead of him.
Birdies o the first two holes moved Parel closer to the lead, but he still trailed Langer by two before back-to-back bogeys late on the front nine by Langer created an opening for Parel.
With none of the other contenders able to take advantage of Langer’s brief lapse, Parel shot to the front with three birdies in a 6-hole stretch to take control of the tournament. He has challenged down the stretch by playing partner Bob Estes, but answered late birdies by Estes with birdies of his own to preserve his lead.
After building a 3-shot advantage with his sixth birdie of the day at the 12thhole, Parel never let his lead drop below two shots, ending the tournament two on front of Estes and four ahead of Langer and Sutherland, who handed Parel both his playoff losses in 2019.
“I was hoping to avoid a playoff because I haven’t had much luck in those lately,” Parel said after his victory Sunday. “You know you’re not going to win every time you’re in contention, and you start to wonder how many more times are you going to get into contention. So for me to be in contention and to finish it off, very happy.”
Parel went straight to the top of the leader board in Friday’s first round, firing a 64 to share the lead at the end of the day. He almost shot himself out of the tournament on the front nine Saturday, falling to 5-under after bogeys on three of the last four holes on the opening nine.
But he rebounded with birdies on three of his next four holes and went on to shoot a 69 to remain within three shots of the lead heading to the final round.
Parel holed a birdie putt on the first hole and chipped in for another birdie on the second. After failing to birdie the par-5 third, he scored his third straight birdie on a par 4 at the fifth, and made it 4-for-4 on par-4 birdies when he made a 3 on the seventh, the toughest hole on the course.
A 4-under 31 on the outgoing nine gave Parel the outright lead, and he expanded on it when he almost holed his second shot on the par-4 10th. When he made birdie from the fringe at the par-3 12th, he increased his lead to three but missed a birdie try from inside five feet at the 13th.
Parel made up for his short miss by rolling in a lengthy birdie putt at 15, and carded his eighth birdie of the day – his only one on a par 5 – when he reached the front fringe of the 17thin two and lagged his eagle try within tap-in range for an easy birdie.
“I don’t know how many putts I made, but I made more than my share,” Parel said. “That’s really the key I think on this tour. It was my week this week.”
Although he is one of the shortest players on the Champions Tour at 5-foot-5, Parel is among the longer hitters and is known more for his ball-striking than his work on the greens. He tied for fourth on the week in greens in regulation and led the field in putting, converting 21 of his birdie opportunities.
With a third-place finish in the prior Champions Tour event in Morocco, Parel has an early lead in the 2020 Schwab Cup standings after placing third and eighth the last two years.
With scores of 64-69-63 in Naples, Parel extended his string of consecutive rounds under par to 21 dating back to last season, the longest streak on the tour. He shot 17-under for 54 holes in Naples.
Parel is the rare Champions Tour competitor who was never a member on the PGA Tour. He played on the Nationwide/Web.com Tour from 2003-15, enjoying his two best seasons in his late 40s in 2012 and ’13. A runner-up finish in Raleigh in 2012 almost propelled Parel to a spot on the PGA Tour, and he scored his lone win on the tour the next year in Wichita. But he struggled after his victory and again fell short of a top 25 finish on the money list needed to move up to the PGA Tour.
During his pre-Champions Tour career, Parel made just five PGA Tour starts, the first two in the U.S. Open in 2002 and ’05. He twice Monday qualified for the BellSouth Classic in 2006 and ’08, making his lone cut in ’06 when he shot 66-77-74-69 at TPC Sugarloaf. He missed the cut in what turned out to be the final PGA Tour stop at Sugarloaf in ’08, but his years of playing in Monday qualifiers paid off during his rookie season on the Champions Tour in 2016.
Parel made it into 15 tournaments that year, almost all in pre-tournament qualifiers, and played his way into his first senior major – the Senior PGA Championship – where he tied for seventh. He cracked the top 50 on the money list that season and earned his spot in the 2017 Champions Tour when he finished first in the finals of qualifying.
Powered by a tie for seventh in the Champions Tour major in Birmingham and a strong finish the final two months of the season, Parel moved up to 21ston the money list in 2017 and has been a top-10 player since. He recorded a combined 21 top 10s in 2018 and ’19, including seven runner-up finishes along with his two 2018 victories – the first in Seattle and the second in a Playoffs event in Los Angeles.
Parel’s wife, who helped support the family during his years on the mini-tours and as an occasional Nationwide Tour participant, was at the tournament in Naples after being absent for his two wins in 2018. She was joined by friends and family in Naples, and Parel said, “To have them here so they can enjoy it, was very special.”
Thanks to his success on the Champions Tour in recent years, Parel’s story has become well known to fans who closely follow the over-50 circuit. Parel moved to Augusta with his family from Michigan during his early years in elementary school and played baseball at Aquinas, the city’s Catholic high school, before attending the U. of Georgia.
Parel studied Computer Science in Athens and did not attempt to make the golf team, although he did try unsuccessfully to make the baseball team as a walk-on. After graduating, he worked as a computer programmer for a decade before turning pro in his early 30s. He did not become a Nationwide Tour member until he was in his late 30s and remained on the tour until 2015, the year he turned 50.
In his final appearance on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour, Parel returned to Wichita in 2017 and tied for 32ndat the age of 52 with four rounds in the 60s.