Life Of The Party When Jesper Parnevik finally won, he did it where people know how to whoop it up

February 02, 1998

Maybe it was the hot-air balloons that filled the crystalline
Arizona sky in the mornings. Maybe it was the dust clouds kicked
up by the huge crowds--129,150 showed up last Saturday--that
rolled lazily over the tented landscape in the afternoons. Or
maybe it was the music and the dancing every night at the Bird's
Nest, for four days the most popular beer hall in the state, or
the guy with the funny hat who stood there with a cigar in one
hand and a trophy in the other as the sun set on Sunday. By the
looks of things last week, clearly the circus had come to town.
Or maybe pro golf's version of one.

"The Phoenix Open is the best festival on Tour, and nobody's
second," says Tom Lehman, who lives in the area. The par-3 16th
at the TPC at Scottsdale, where more than 20,000 mostly
well-lubricated fans gather to hoot and heckle every player, is
the event's main stage. "When you step up there," says Paul
Stankowski, "it's like being the field goal kicker in the Super
Bowl with no time left." Adds Lehman, "No question, this is a
party."

Jesper Parnevik, finally, was the life of it. Parnevik, a Swede,
had been best known for three things: his singular style of
dress, his willingness to try any New Age method to improve his
game, and his close-but-no-cigar finishes on the PGA Tour and in
the British Open. After his three-shot victory over Tommy Armour
III, Brent Geiberger, Steve Pate and Tom Watson, we only have
Parnevik's penchant for eating volcanic dust, the flipped brim
on his cap and his avant-garde clothes to kick around.

He was resplendent in black on Sunday. Besides his normal
stovepipe pants, Parnevik wore a shirt with a wide collar and
white trim that might've been pulled from Captain Kangaroo's
closet. "The stuff he wears is so retro that by the end of the
day you wind up digging brown and blue," says Brandel Chamblee.

Although Parnevik is called Spaceman on Tour, the other golfers
take him seriously as a player, particularly after last season,
when he abandoned the European tour to play full time in the
U.S. and finished second five times. A captain's choice for the
victorious European Ryder Cup team, Parnevik was a rock, winning
two points.

Earlier in his career Parnevik would have won the 1994 British
Open at Turnberry but for an amazing eagle by Nick Price late in
the final round, and last year he was in the lead at Royal Troon
on Sunday before getting steamrollered by Justin Leonard's fast
finish and winding up tied for second. Last week at the TPC at
Scottsdale, Parnevik finally came up with the right combination
of aggressive shotmaking, smart golf and luck. He also wasn't
hurt by the fact that two of his pursuers, Armour and Pate,
bogeyed the 72nd hole while another, Geiberger, bogeyed the
71st. "If this had been last year, Armour and those guys would
have birdied in and I probably would have finished second
again," Parnevik said. "It's tough to explain. At Turnberry,
Price finished birdie-eagle-par. I'm standing on the 18th tee
with a three-shot lead thinking, This is a piece of cake. Five
minutes later I'm one behind. At Troon, I was 99 percent sure I
was going to win. Then Justin got on a roll the last nine and
made everything. So you get those thoughts: What's going to
happen? Who's going to finish birdie-birdie-birdie to beat me by
one?"

No one this time. Parnevik had a three-shot lead when he reached
the final hole. All he had to do was keep his tee shot on dry
land, something that Armour had been unable to do. Once Parnevik
put his approach shot on the green, the tournament was over, so
he pulled a cigar from his bag, lit it and enjoyed a victory
walk up the fairway.

Parnevik had looked like anything but a sure thing earlier in
the round. He made two bogeys on the front nine thanks to errant
drives, then failed to save par from a greenside bunker at the
12th. Meanwhile, Armour and Pate, playing together, were
shooting 64s. "We absolutely would've killed everybody in
bestball," Pate said. Armour drove the green at the 332-yard,
par-4 17th and holed a six-foot eagle putt to get to 13 under,
one ahead of Parnevik. Pate's pitch at the 17th just missed
hitting the pin, but he sank his birdie putt to tie Armour.

The free-swinging Armour's only Tour win is the '90 Phoenix
Open. Since then he hasn't finished among the top 130 money
winners and last season didn't place higher than 17th in any
event. Pate regained his exempt status last year after missing
most of the '96 season as a result of fracturing his right wrist
in a traffic accident while driving from the Phoenix Open to San
Diego ("What I didn't miss was the big truck in the middle of
I-10," he says) and then his left wrist when he tripped and fell
in August. On Sunday he limped around the course due to gout in
his right big toe. ("Apparently I need to change my diet," he
says.)

Geiberger, the long-hitting son of former PGA champion Al, had
reached 13 under through 16 holes but hit his tee shot in the
pond at 17 and bogeyed. The 48-year-old Watson, showing the
youthful putting stroke that carried him to 33 Tour victories
and eight major championship titles instead of the yippy jab
that has killed him in recent years, ran in an 18-foot birdie
putt at the par-5 15th to get to 12 under but could draw no
closer. "I really liked the way I felt on the greens," Watson
said. "I turned a 69 or 70 into a 66."

Parnevik took control of the tournament with a birdie from the
back fringe at the 14th, a two-putt birdie at the easy 15th and
yet another birdie, after chipping stiff from just off the
green, at the 17th. He finished with a 67 and a 15-under 269. In
the end it wasn't even close. For Parnevik, it was party time.

COLOR PHOTO: TODD KOROL Parnevik, who was stuck in second five times last year, got his game in gear down the stretch on Sunday. [Jesper Parnevik chipping]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)