Scott Parel made one of the Air Capital Classic’s most dramatic shots Saturday afternoon, an 8-foot eagle putt that hovered on the lip of the 14th hole before disappearing.
One month to the day after his 48th birthday, the putt put Parel above all others on a chaotic leaderboard at Crestview Country Club.
Not that the Augusta, Ga., native was searching out a scoreboard for confirmation.
“To me, it doesn’t do any good to look,” said Parel, who shot a 4-under-par 67 for a one-shot lead in the $650,000 Web.com Tour event. “You don’t get anything for leading on Saturdays. I was just trying to play my game.”
Those who were scoreboard watching probably couldn’t make much sense of it. After the final golfers finished amid a gusty south wind, Parel had a 54-hole total of 11-under 202. Steve Wheatcroft, who eagled the par-5 18th for a 68, was alone in second at 10 under.
Then things got as crowded as the trunk of a Buick on $10 carload night. Seven golfers, including Monday qualifier and Kansas graduate Chris Thompson (64), were tied for third at 9 under. A group of four players that included former Wichita State All-American Dustin Garza (68) were three shots off the lead at 8 under.
With the threat of inclement weather in Sunday’s forecast, tournament officials announced the final round will begin at 8 a.m. with threesomes starting on the first and 10th tees. The final pairing of Parel, Wheatcroft and tour veteran Paul Claxton will start at 9:50 on No. 1.
“Tomorrow is just going to be a shootout by the looks of it,” said Wheatcroft, whose lone tour victory came by a record-setting 12 shots at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open two years ago. “There’s so many guys at 9 (under), I’m at 10 and Scotty is 11. You’re going to have to go out and make some birdies.”
Parel, who started Saturday tied for fourth, made four birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to take the lead from Nathan Tyler. Tyler, the All-American Gateway Tour money leader who earned a sponsor’s exemption for the tournament, slipped into a tie for 14th after shooting a 74.
There’s irony to a group of golfers chasing Parel. Parel has pursued a PGA Tour card since 1996, when he left his job as a computer programmer 10 years after graduating from Georgia, where he did not play for the Bulldogs.
The veteran of 170 Web.com events has come tantalizingly close in recent years. At the 2011 PGA Tour qualifying tournament, Parel missed out on a tour card by one shot. Then at last year’s Rex Hospital Open, Parel finished second in a playoff to James Hahn. A victory would have given him enough season earnings to accomplish his dream.
Parel still led the Web.com in cuts made with 20 in 26 events last year. But a lower back injury has slowed his momentum in 2013. Parel is just 153rd on the money list with $7,808.
“It’s definitely big,” Parel said of putting himself in contention at Crestview. “But every time I get here, I feel a little more comfortable because I know that I’ve been here and that I’ve had a chance.
“Hopefully, that’ll help me deal with it the more times I get into it. That’s what I hear anyway.”
Parel’s closest pursuer got to that position despite a wild front nine Saturday. Wheatcroft birdied the North course’s first four holes, but gave all the strokes back with bogeys in four of the next five holes.
Wheatcroft accompanied his 15-foot eagle putt at No. 18 with a spirited fist pump that appeared to release some frustration.
“I would love to say yes, but no it doesn’t,” Wheatcroft said when asked if the eagle made up for earlier miscues. “I had it to 11 under after four holes and I was starting to think some weird numbers in my head. I was thinking, ‘OK, I love the back nine. I’ve been eating the back nine alive.’”
If Wheatcroft’s forecast of a Sunday shootout comes to fruition, Crestview’s back nine is generally fertile ground. Wheatcroft is 12 under on the closing nine in this tournament and 2 over on the front side. There were 13 eagles at Crestview in the third round, including seven on No. 14 and four on No. 18.
No wonder Parel seemed dismissive of Saturday’s developments.
“History shows that someone can come from fairly far back because there’s so many birdie opportunities on the back side,” Parel said.