Craig Parry by the numbers, then: Ten long years. Two hundred thirty five previous PGA Tour starts without a victory. Three 54-hole leads frittered away. Three second places.
Parry by the numbers, now: Four-stroke victory in the WGC-NEC Invitational. Final 48 holes without a bogey. Million-dollar payday.
All that added up to one immediate goal.
“I am going to get blotto,” the glowing Australian said, using a synonym for drunk, wasted, hammered, faced, ripped and three sheets to the wind. “They might have to carry me off the plane.”
To carry a theme, the 36-year-old Aussie blitzed the elite field at the tight and tall-tree-lined Sahalee Country Club. Following an opening 72, he brewed up scores of 65, 66 and 65 for a 16-under-par 268 total, four strokes ahead of the recently hot Fred Funk and fellow Australian Robert Allenby.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Parry said after a terrific week driving and putting with new instruments. “Winning on Tour means everything to me.”
Parry might have been the best player never to have won on Tour. He led the 1992 Masters by three strokes after 54 holes. He led the 1999 British Open by one stroke after 65 holes. But, his 19 worldwide victories aside, he had been what the Brits refer to as a Nearly Man on the PGA Tour.
“We all knew he had the game,” Allenby said after closing with four consecutive birdies. “He showed he’s the player we knew he was.
“He’s a fighter. It was only a matter of time before he came through with the goods.”
Coming in, though, it didn’t appear, at least on paper, that he had them. The man Allenby calls Pazza, Australian slang for Parry, had missed the cut in four consecutive Tour events and seven of nine. He was a lowly 144th in Tour earnings and 118th in the Official World Ranking and 140th in the Golfweek⁄Sagarin Performance Index. He rated only 171st on Tour in greens in regulation, 141st in driving accuracy and 126th in putting average.
“I thought I’ve been playing well for a while, but have been getting nothing out of my rounds,” Parry said after earning more in one week than he had in any of his previous 10 Tour seasons. “A lot of that had to do with not holing putts. I felt I needed to hit it to a foot to make a birdie because I wasn’t holing any putts.”
That changed here in the Pacific Northwest. He changed to a Callaway 2-Ball putter three weeks earlier, practiced short putts with the aid of a string all week and ended the NEC 18th in putting. That helped him get up-and-down 78.6 percent of the time, best in the field in scrambling. He had only one three-putt green.
His driving also went from bad to good. Using the new Callaway Great Big Bertha II driver for the first time, he tied for 12th in accuracy off the tee. That dial-a-fade of his enabled him to hit 80.6 percent of the greens in regulation (tied for third).
“He put on a clinic,” Funk, referring to Parry’s closing 65, said after his third runner-up finish in 11⁄2 months. “I’ve never seen him hit it this solid. It was fabulous to watch.”
Parry made other alterations this week beside switching equipment. He said he dealt with the present and stopped worrying about the holes ahead. He decided to hit shots to the center of greens when he didn’t feel he could get close to a tucked pin. And he decided to focus on his own shots and not worry about others.
Rich Beem’s unlikely victory in the PGA Championship the week before made a lasting impression. An exhausted Beem not only tied for sixth at the NEC, his example had a hand in the victory.
“I wasn’t focused 100 percent on the shot I wanted to play, be it over water or down the fairway,” Parry said. “That’s what I saw in Rich Beem, in his mannerisms. He was getting up and trying to hit the shot he wants to hit and hitting it. I thought, ‘Why can’t you do that?’ ”
So the short, roly-poly Parry did at Sahalee. He had the low score of the day in both weekend rounds. The third-round co-leader with Allenby, Parry went three shots up and ahead to stay when he birdied Nos. 2-4 on putts of 6 feet, 12 feet and 12 inches. Only momentarily did someone (Allenby) get closer than three after that.
World No. 1 Tiger Woods finished fourth, five strokes back, in his bid to join Walter Hagen (PGA Championship) and Gene Sarazen (Miami Open) as the only players to win the same event four consecutive years. Woods did gain his 10th top 10 in 11 WGC events and his 10th top 10 in 15 Tour events this year.
Ironically, if Woods hadn’t gone to the 2002 New Zealand Open for a reported $2 million appearance fee, Parry wouldn’t have qualified for the expanded, 78-man NEC tournament and bagged what he called a “mind-boggling” million. Woods’ entry raised the ranking points to where the New Zealand Open winner (Parry) got a berth here.
“If Tiger doesn’t go down there, I don’t win here,” a smiling Parry said. “I’m glad he went.”
There’s a million reasons why. Not that Parry needs the money. To hear longtime friend Allenby, Parry has “millions of dollars” and owns a boat “worth $2 million.”
But, wealthy or not, Parry is nothing if not a deal seeker. A few years ago in Denver, Parry went on the Internet and discovered that if he checked out of his Hyatt hotel room and checked back in, he would save about $50. So he did, online.
“That sums up Craig Parry to a tee,” Allenby said.
But what does it add up to?
“I hate being ripped off,” Parry said. “Just like anyone.”