By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter
Kevin Sutherland was a portrait of shock and surprise as he stood on Wakonda’s 18thgreen Sunday afternoon.
Eight shots back when the final round started, Sutherland turned in the third-largest comeback in PGA Tour Champions history to win the Principal Charity Classic in a playoff over Scott Parel. Sutherland made a 10-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole for the third, and most unlikely, victory of his career.
“Usually when you win you feel like you had a chance,” Sutherland said. “I kind of came out of nowhere.”
Sutherland set a Wakonda course record and tied the tournament record with 10-under-par 62 Sunday. That included a record 8-under 28 the closing nine that enabled him catch Parel, who was trying to become the third player to win this tournament wire-to-wire.
Sutherland beat Parel in a seven-hole sudden-death playoff earlier this season at the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Biloxi, Miss.
“I feel bad for Scott,” Sutherland said. “He led the tournament from start to finish. He played fantastic. He deserved to win the tournament as much as anybody. I just happened to be the one that won.”
Sutherland and Parel, who had a five-shot lead on the field heading into play Sunday, tied at 17-under 199. That was a tournament record. Parel, trying to become the third wire-to-wire winner in the Principal’s 19-year history, closed with a 70.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Parel, who tied for second here last year. “I should have never been in a playoff to begin with. He played great, but I had too many chances. I just didn’t do it today.”
Sutherland has a reputation for going low. The 62 he shot at Wakonda, which matched the 9-under 62 Kirk Triplett shot in the final round of the 2012 championship played at Glen Oaks, was just the third-lowest round of his PGA Tour Champions career.
Sutherland is the only player on this tour to break 60. He shot 59 in the second round of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in 2014. He also shot a 60 in the second round of the 2018 Boeing Classic. Sutherland didn’t win either of those tournaments.
Sutherland has now broken 30 on four occasions on the PGA Tour Champions – two 28s and two 29s. He’s shot 62 or better five times. Sunday’s 62 was his career low for a final round.
“I think I get greedy,” Sutherland said. “When I get going, I want to do more. I get excited to get to the next hole, because I think there’s another birdie coming. I’m not sure what else it could be. It’s a nice thing to have.”
Sutherland opened with a 72, good for a tie for 46thand nine shots back of Parel. Sutherland was eight shots back of Parel, in a tie for ninth, when he teed off Sunday.
Sutherland teed off in anonymity, too, as all eyes were on Parel, the only player in the field who didn’t make a bogey the first two rounds.
Parel’s five-shot lead started to shrink after he bogeyed the par-3 second hole. Jerry Kelly made the first serious run at the lead, getting within two shots on the front nine. Kelly had two golden opportunities to get closer, but didn’t get up-and-down from a greenside bunker for a birdie on the par-5 8thhole. He also missed a five-foot birdie putt on No. 9.
Parel took a three-shot lead to the back nine, and was still three up walking to the par-5 15th. By then, Sutherland had caught fire. Sutherland got to 15 under with birdies on the first six holes of the back nine. That’s when the thought of winning first entered his mind.
“I never even thought I had a chance to win until I got to 15,” Sutherland said.
Parel, playing two pairings in from of Sutherland, opened the door when he sliced his tee shot on the 15thand ended up in the right rough on No. 16.
“My foot slipped a little bit on the tee shot, then I think I hit the tree and it went farther right,” Parel said. “It was in a bad spot over there.’
Parel scrambled to make a bogey, dropping to 17 under. Sutherland’s birdie streak ended with he missed a 5-foot putt on the 16th.
“To make that one and shoot 9 under on the back would have been something special,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on No. 17, and caught Parel with a 10-foot birdie on the 18thgreen.
Parel missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation, and he and Sutherland returned to the 18thtee to start the playoff. It was almost a threesome.
Kelly hit his second shot at 18 a foot from the cup. He dropped to his knees when his ball danced around the cup and didn’t go in. Kelly shot a final-round 66 and finished one shot back.
On Saturday, it was Kelly who predicted a 10-under round would be out there on Sunday. Sutherland made him look like a soothsayer.
Parel had another chance for victory on the first playoff hole, but left his 10-footer for birdie short. They returned to the 18thhole to continue the playoff. After Parel missed a 12-footer for birdie, Sutherland made a putt that was almost identical to the one he made at the end of regulation.
“It was similar, so I really felt optimistic about the result,” Sutherland said. “I hit almost the same exact putt. I kind of left it out to the right a hair. But for some reason, it just kind of hangs on there and falls in.”