DES MOINES – Take one look at the season-long Charles Schwab Cup points race on the PGA Tour Champions, and most of the names at the top will be familiar to moderately regular golf fans.
Even Ken Tanigawa, the No. 2 man in the standings, is top-of-mind following his Senior PGA Championship victory just last week.
And then there’s Scott Parel.
He won twice last season. He’s sixth on that money list this year, with more than $610,000 to his name.
Be honest, though … do you know his name?
It’s no knock on anybody, but the 54-year-old has probably slipped under your radar.
“I’ve got no problem with nobody knowing who I am,” Parel said.
Well, Mr. Nobody is now Capt. Somebody, after his bogey-free first-round 63 Friday at Wakonda Club has him leading the pack at the Principal Charity Classic.
Parel is two shots clear at 9-under over a resurgent Chris DiMarco, who carded his best score ever on the Champions Tour by three strokes with a 65. Billy Andrade sits third following a 6-under 66.
“This tour is called the PGA Tour Champions for a reason. I mean, most of the guys on this tour were champions on the PGA Tour,” said Parel, who started on the back nine before birdieing four of his final five holes to surge in front. “I’m just fortunate enough that they allow a few guys that show that they can play when they’re over 50 to be able to play with these guys.
“… As long as I play good golf, that’s all I care about.”
Parel has good reason to feel fortunate. He didn’t turn pro until he was in his 30s. He made just five starts on the PGA Tour and only cracked the cut line once. He played in 222 events on the secondary pro circuit, the Web.com Tour, and earned just a single victory.
So, after finishing as the runner-up here last year, he leaped right back into the discussion by equaling the course record set by Andrade in 2016. Kirk Triplett once shot a 62 at Glen Oaks Country Club (also 9-under) for the overall tournament single-round standard.
Everybody deserves to be a somebody sometimes. And now could be Parel’s time.
“I’m very comfortable out here, as comfortable as you can get in golf in general,” said Parel, who needed just 23 putts Friday, three fewer than anyone else in the field. “But I like where my game’s at.”
Much of the field was feeling comfortable, as 45 of the 78 players broke par on a squishy day on the south Des Moines course. The overflowing rain gauges this spring have left the William Langford layout still damp underfoot, even after two precipitation-free days. Players were allowed to lift, clean and place the ball when they were in the fairways.
Under those conditions and hitting approaches into soft greens, you’ll either hit paydirt or have the dirt kicked in your face.
“The course was there for a score,” said Darren Clarke, who was one of seven golfers to card a 5-under 67 and share fourth place. “There was nothing tricky. You had to drive in the fairway. If you drove it in the fairway, you had chances.
“That’s the way it should be.”
That’s not the way it has been for DiMarco, a three-time PGA Tour winner and a three-time runner-up in major championships who quit professional golf for almost five years in his late 40s to spend more time with his family.
Once he turned 50, he wanted to rededicate himself to the game. But a slew of poor finishes left him in search of confidence.
That aha moment arrived at last in central Iowa. He made six birdies on his final seven holes, including a 60-foot bomb on the par-3 17th that sent some mildly rowdy Day 1 crowds roaring on a low part of the course.
“The hardest part was getting my competitive edge back and feeling like you belong,” a refreshingly honest DiMarco said after his round. “Do I belong out here? Yes. Do I deserve to be out here? Yes. Do I feel like I can compete out here?”
He then paused for a moment before finishing. “And you know, it’s been a struggle.”
It had been 15 rounds since he’d broken par. He finished 22-over in just two rounds last week at the Senior PGA. He had nine birdies on Friday; DiMarco said there would be entire tournaments where he wouldn’t have as many circles on his scorecard.
There was some extra meaning, then, behind a first-round fist-pump after he coaxed in an 8-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 18th.
“There’s not much pressure everywhere else. It’s inner pressure, the battle within myself,” DiMarco said. “I kind of had to push the old me away and say, ‘Get out of here, let’s get this guy back in.’ It was really good for today, for sure.”
It will have to be really good the rest of the weekend for anybody to catch that nobody-turned-somebody, though. The friendly conditions expect to stick around through Sunday.
And Parel sure isn’t going anywhere.
“On this tour, you always have to stay aggressive, anyway. I don’t care where we are or what the conditions are,” he said.
“Pars generally don’t work out here too often.”
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