Kevin Sutherland rallies from 8 shots back to win Principal Charity Classic in playoff

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Kevin Sutherland rallies from 8 shots back to win Principal Charity Classic in playoff

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Kevin Sutherland rallies from 8 shots back to win Principal Charity Classic in playoff

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DES MOINES – Even when wrapped in modern grandstands, the par-4 18th hole at Wakonda Club can maintain as classic a feel as the 97-year-old course itself.

A steep climb of 311 yards to the south Des Moines clubhouse awaits golfers finishing their rounds. The hole is lined with trees on both sides near the green, making the setting tight and intimate.

On the right, special day, it can hearken back to decades-old photos of players who attempted putts with championships on the line as fans wrapped both sides of the scene.

Improbably, Sunday was one of those special days at the Principal Charity Classic.

Kevin Sutherland will joyfully remember this cloudless day as another where the 18th hole treated him kindly.

Scott Parel will painfully remember this day, too. He’ll remember these 311 tantalizing yards. He’ll remember the groans as his own chances at glory came up a couple of revolutions short.

Whether he wants to or not, Parel will remember the player who keeps sliding into his place in the winner’s circle.

Sutherland trickled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to cap the third-largest final-round comeback in the 39-year history of the PGA Tour Champions. He rallied from eight strokes back to start the day to deny Parel of a title for the second time in just over two months and secure his third career win on the 50-and-over circuit.

The two golfers had contested a seven-hole playoff that spanned two days at the Rapiscan Systems Classic in Mississippi earlier this season. Sutherland won that duel, too.

But the road to this unlikelier showdown is one you’d have had to witness to fully understand. The circumstances were a blur and a surprise, even to the champion.

“A little bit, a little bit,” a grinning Sutherland said. “Usually, when you win a tournament, you feel like you had a chance to win. But I kind of came out of nowhere.”

Indeed, Sutherland was at even par after the first round, nine strokes behind Parel and in 46th. He had to shoot a 7-under 65 just to crack the top 10 entering the final 18 holes.

On Sunday, Sutherland broke the Wakonda course record with a 10-under 62, the number that third-place Jerry Kelly said just a day before was “out there.” Sutherland carded a 54-hole score of 17-under 199, a tournament record in relation to par, by birdieing eight of the nine holes on the back nine for a 28, his fourth such nine-hole score below 30 since he turned 50.

His one par coming home? It only arrived after a missed 5-foot birdie putt on No. 16.

And yet, with four holes to play, Sutherland was at 14-under and sharing second place, but he was four behind Parel and still mostly an afterthought.

“I never really thought about — at all, at any point, until I got to about 15 — that I had any chance to win the tournament,” he said. “It just happened to work out my way.”

He birdied that par-5 15th nonchalantly before the miss at 16. He curled in a 25-footer at the par-3 17th before approaching that 311-yard walk at the last.

Meanwhile, Parel was sliding. His foot slipped on the 15th tee, causing him to block his tee shot to the right. The ball caromed off a tree and into the deep rough normally seen as a challenge on the 16th hole. Parel advanced his second shot only 20 yards, leading to a bogey. In 20 minutes, the deficit had shrunk to one.

Two years ago, Sutherland holed out for an eagle 2 that sent him to a second-place finish behind eventual Brandt Jobe. This time, he flipped his second shot on No. 18 to that 10-foot range that eventually won him the tournament. But he had to drain the first to even consider that there could be a second.

Parel narrowly missed a long birdie try on 17 to regain the lead. He blasted a drive up the steep hill and quickly pitched to about 12 feet away. His first putt for the win never reached the hole.

Kelly nearly holed out for eagle from 55 yards on the 18th to join the playoff, but missed to the right by about a foot to finish in third alone at 16-under. David Toms was in fourth at 13-under.

The rally from eight strokes back stands alone in third place in Champions Tour history for final-round comebacks. It’s the longest since Allen Doyle came from nine back to win the 2005 U.S. Senior Open. The tour record is 10.

Sutherland isn’t apologizing for the victory he never thought he’d have, but he wasn’t without empathy for the player who seemed destined to receive the crowd’s last hurrahs.

“I feel bad for Scott. I mean, he led the tournament from start to finish. He played fantastic,” Sutherland said. “He deserved to win this tournament as much as anybody, and I just happened to be the one that won.”

And anybody who was standing around No. 18 just happened to be in a special place, for a special afternoon.

 


  

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