Parry notches first PGA win at NEC
by Doug Ferguson
SAMMAMISH, Wash. (AP) ? Winless in 235 previous starts on the PGA Tour, Craig Parry played like a world champion Sunday to win the NEC Invitational.
The stocky Australian birdied three straight holes early in the final round at Sahalee Country Club and never gave Tiger Woods, Robert Allenby or anyone else a chance in closing with a 6-under 65 for a four-stroke victory.
"I'm just very lucky at the moment," Parry said. "Hopefully, I'll have a little more confidence with my golf game, knowing I can finishing the job off."
Parry finished at 16-under 268, four strokes ahead of Allenby (69) and Fred Funk (68), and became the only player besides Woods to capture the NEC Invitational.
Woods was trying to become the first player in 75 years to win the same tournament four years in a row. Starting the final round two strokes behind, he couldn't keep pace with the Australian and closed with a 68 to finish fourth.
Woods ended a three-week stretch with a victory at the Buick Open, a second-place finish in the PGA Championship and fourth at Sahalee.
"Any time you win one, and you put yourself in contention to win two others, you're doing all right," Woods said.
It wasn't enough to stop Rich Beem at Hazeltine, or Parry, another unlikely winner.
The 5-foot-6 Australian with powerful forearms - one of his nicknames is "Popeye" - Parry became the second player this year to win his first PGA Tour event at one of the $5 million World Golf Championships.
Kevin Sutherland won his first tour event at the Match Play Championship in February with a 1-up victory at La Costa.
Only this final round wasn't even close.
Parry, a 19-time winner overseas, made sure of that with birdies on three straight holes, starting at No. 2, that quickly gave him a three-stroke advantage. He made two crucial par saves before rolling in a bending, 20-footer for birdie on No. 9.
Parry was so dominant that he didn't make a bogey after the sixth hole of his second round Friday, playing the final 48 holes at Sahalee with pars or better.
Despite playing in the final group, with the pressure of a $1 million prize and finally proving he can win against the best, Parry matched the best score of the day. David Duval also had a 65.
Twelve players were separated by four strokes going into the final round, and Allenby said it would take a round of 5 under to win. He also figured Woods might be among those poised to make a charge.
Instead, the best play came from the top.
Parry effectively ended the tournament with an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 14, and the only other time he had to scramble was when he hit into the bunker on No. 17. He blasted out to 6 feet and holed the par putt, as a smile crept over his face.
Parry first showed his promise 10 years ago when he took a one-stroke lead over Fred Couples into the final round of the Masters. He shot 78 on Sunday and tied for 13th. He had another good chance at the '95 Colonial, but Tom Lehman birdied the last two holes.
There was no stopping him Sunday on a gray, cool afternoon at Sahalee, an Indian word that means, "High, Heavenly Ground."
Parry was walking on clouds when he ripped a 3-wood into the green on the par-5 18th and tapped in for a birdie.
Allenby tried to stay with him, but made bogey on the 10th from the rough and took a double bogey on No. 14 when he hit into the trees. Allenby finished with four straight birdies, but they were of little consolation.
Justin Rose, the 22-year-old from England, closed with a 68 to finish fifth.
The irony of Parry's victory is that Woods was responsible for him even getting into the NEC Invitational.
The field was expanded this year to include more than just Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup players, adding the top 50 in the world and select tournaments around the globe that had a minimum number of world ranking points.
Parry won the New Zealand Open, which became a qualifying event for the NEC Invitational only because of Woods' presence as the No. 1 player in the world.
Woods, meanwhile, gets one more chance to win the same tournament four straight years at the Bay Hill Invitational in March.
Walter Hagen won the PGA Championship in 1924-27 when it was match play.