2004: Parry’s Monster shot wakes up Doral

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If Craig Parry thought the start to his week at the Ford Championship at Doral was, well, a tad crazy, then never could he have fathomed how unthinkable the script would end.

With one mighty swing, the pint-sized powderkeg from Australia – nickname: Popeye – brought Doral’s Blue Monster to its knees and a Sunday crowd to its collective feet. His 6-iron shot from 176 yards landed softly and rolled ever-so-gently into the hole for eagle-2 on the 467-yard 18th hole, once again one of the most feared holes in golf.

And so, in the time it takes for a ball to fly 173 yards through the air, pitch 9 feet in front of the hole and teeter its way over the edge of the cup for a most improbable finish, Parry’s playoff with Scott Verplank was finished – ending a long, hot Sunday that, right up to one conclusive, prodigious swing, had been sorely lacking in sizzle.

Talk about a wake-up call.

All week, the 18th had been eating players’ lunches, so it seemed a rather bizarre place for the pudgy, affable Parry to enjoy a final eagle feast.

“Five is not necessarily a bad score there,” fourth-place finisher Joe Durant said of Doral’s revamped, toughened 18th, which played to an average of nearly 4.5 shots. “Four is a very good score, and three is like stealing one.” Making an eagle-2, then, was akin to finding Donald Trump’s wallet in the street.

Parry threw his club into the South Florida sky, punched his fist through the air and kicked his leg like a miniature Rockette. By the time he made his way to the green, before he could even retrieve his ball from the hole, the winner’s crystal trophy was waiting on a table on the green. He also won $900,000 and a $140,000 2005 Ford GT Supercar. It may have been the Tour’s most amazing single-swing finish since rookie Robert Gamez holed a 7-iron from 176 yards for eagle-2 at the 72nd hole of the 1990 Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill to edge Greg Norman.

“When Robert Gamez holed his second shot at Bay Hill, I was in the front (of Gamez’s group) and finishing out my scorecard,” Parry said. “That was an eerie feeling, and it was the same thing out there today. It was fantastic. I’ll always remember it, yeah.”

Verplank – who had hit a terrific shot of his own from the right rough, running a 4-iron approach from 224 yards onto the green – looked as if he’d been punched in the gut. In essence, he had.

“Now I know how Greg Norman felt,” said Verplank, referencing the Great White Shark’s many days spent playing thunder to his opponents’ 11th-hour lightning. “He (Parry) was supposed to win. There’s nothing that I could really do about that.”

Both players finished regulation at 17-under 271. Funny thing is, Parry’s week nearly ended before it began.

When his younger brother and caddie, Glenn, stirred the jet-lagged Craig out of bed Thursday morning at 7:44, Parry had all of 10 minutes to get dressed and get to the 10th tee to make his time. Good thing he was staying only 50 yards away.

“If he’d have been teeing off on No. 1, it would have been too far away,” said Glenn. “He looked terrible – black pants, blue shirt – but he grabbed his driver and ran, and he got there. Some golf tournaments are fate, aren’t they?”

Always a good driver of the ball, Parry, who has won on four continents, was solid all week from tee to green, hitting 73 percent of his fairways and greens (ranking second and fourth, respectively). On the back nine Sunday, he had chances to run away and hide, but didn’t seize the opportunity, keeping Verplank, Retief Goosen, Joe Durant and David Toms in contention.

The last one standing next to the 5-foot-6 Parry was Verplank, who had pulled off a little shotmaking magic of his own at the par-4 17th, knocking a 9-iron from a fairway bunker to 3 feet to set up a tying birdie. Moments after making a clutch 6-foot par putt at 18 to grab a spot in the playoff, Verplank returned to the tee at 18 and seemingly had recovered nicely from his wayward drive. His ball was on the green and his putter tucked under his arm when Parry hit his shot heard ’round Doral.

What exactly were Verplank’s thoughts?

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “Maybe not in that nice of terms.”

If anyone should know golf and fate, it’s the 38-year-old Parry. Two years ago, he showed up at the WGC-NEC Invitational at Sahalee Country Club fully prepared to play his final event in the United States. The gravitational pull of leaving a wife and three young children behind in Australia every time he boarded one of those long flights out of Sydney was growing to be too much. Parry was ready to play full time in Japan, where he is exempt through 2007, and Europe. He told a competitor his “retirement” plans over a few beers in a restaurant bar. Then Parry went out and won the event by four shots, earning a three-year exemption.

The player whose shoulder he was “crying” upon over beers?

Scott Verplank.

“I keep asking him when he’s going to retire,” sighed Verplank. “Sure enough, I run into him again today, and he wouldn’t retire. So maybe I’ll get another chance, and I’ll get him next time.”

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