By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter
Scott Parel has averaged 65.5 shots over his last four competitive rounds at the Wakonda Club.
Add the fact that he enters Sunday’s final round of the Principal Charity Classic with a five-shot lead, and Parel is clearly the man to beat.
“There’s a 10-under-par (round) out there,” said Jerry Kelly, who is tied for second with Marco Dawson.
But Kelly is also a realist.
“(Parel’s) playing great and he’s a bomber, so he’s got short stuff into all the par-5s,” Kelly said. “But it’s possible.”
Parel’s 15-under-par total, on rounds of 63-66, is a tournament record for the 19-year PGA Tour Champions event. The previous mark was 13 under par, set by Tom Lehman last year. The lowest winning score since the tournament moved to Wakonda in 2013 is 15 under by Scott McCarron in 2016.
Lehman won last year’s title without hitting a Sunday shot when inclement weather forced postponement of the final round. Parel, who had shot 67-66, tied for second.
Parel was disappointed that he didn’t get a chance to chase Lehman. Now he’s the one that everyone will be chasing on Sunday.
“I don’t know about redemption,” said Parel, who won twice on the PGA Tour Champions last season and lost in a seven-hole playoff to Kevin Sutherland this year at the Rapiscan Systems Classic. “I mean, every week’s different. I like this golf course, and I seem to play pretty well here.”
Parel knows his name isn’t on the first-place check for $277,500 quite yet.
“I’ve played with these guys enough to know that somebody back there is probably going to shoot 7 or 9 under somewhere. I think we’re going to have even nicer conditions (Sunday). So there’s no let up. Pars are generally not good. I doubt that 15 under’s going to win this golf tournament.”
Two other factors weigh in Parel’s favor. He’s the only player in the 78-player field to get around Wakonda without a bogey in the first two rounds.
And only once in 36 holes has Parel had a number higher than 4 on his scorecard. That came at the par-5 13th, where he three-putted for par Saturday.
“I wish I hadn’t three-putted that one,” Parel said.
Kelly, who has won three times on both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions during his career, also played bogey-free golf on Saturday while posting a second consecutive 67. Kelly tied for sixth in last year’s Principal Charity Classic.
Dawson, who won two PGA Tour Champions tournaments in 2015 and has four Top 10s this season, including a runner-up finish at the Oasis Championship, had a rollercoaster round of 65.
Dawson’s scorecard included three bogeys, six pars, eight birdies and an eagle at the par-5 5thhole. Dawson faces an uphill climb in Sunday’s final round, but he won’t change his strategy on the first tee.
“I don’t think so, in the beginning,” Dawson said. “You don’t have any control over his game, he doesn’t have control over your game. So if he plays great, great. You just go out and play the best you can, and stick with what got you there.”
Gene Sauers, David Toms and Billy Andrade will start the final round in a tie for fourth, six shots back. Sauers birdied six straight holes starting at No. 11 and shot a second-round 68. Toms, a major champion on both the PGA Tour (2001 PGA Championship) and PGA Tour Champions (2018 U.S. Senior Open), shot 68. Andrade, who tied for second here in 2016, shot 69.
Parel first tried to get into the Principal Charity Classic through Monday qualifying in 2015 after he turned 50. He was playing on the Web.com Tour at the time, and had become friends with former Iowa State star Chris Baker.
The qualifier was held at Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City. Parel told Baker he wouldn’t have time to get in a practice round, and asked his friend if the course was one that needed some local knowledge to succeed at.
“He said, “Oh, no, you can play Tournament Club of Iowa blind, it’s right in front of you,’ ” Parel recalled. “Three of the first five holes, I didn’t have any idea what was going on. So I gave it to him pretty good the next time I saw him.”
Parel didn’t get through the qualifier. He wrote former tournament director Greg Conrad asking for a sponsor’s exemption in 2016, but didn’t get one. While Parel was back at TCI preparing for another qualifier in 2017, someone dropped out of the field and Conrad offered him the spot.
Parel tied for 37thin 2016, and tied for 40thin 2017. But he’s had much more success the past two years.
As fate would have it, Baker heads into Sunday with a four-shot lead in the Web.com Tour event in Wichita, Kan.
“Chris is a good guy, and he’s got a lot of game,” Parel said. “He’s due to win out there.”
All signs point to Parel winning on Sunday, too.
“You know, I’m living the dream here,” Parel said. “This is a pretty good spot to be in. Win, lose or draw, it’s fantastic to get to play with these guys and play for a living, so I’ve got no reason to be upset about anything one way or another.”