Charles Howell III, the earnest 22-year-old from Augusta, couldn't have picked a more unlikely mentor than Jesper Parnevik, 36, the far-out Swede, but they're tighter than their J. Lindeberg pants. Here's a diary of their week in L.A.
Pretournament Parnevik tries to convince Howell that the Apollo II moon landing took place on a soundstage in Nevada. "You look at the pictures and the flag is waving, but there's no air on the moon," says Parnevik, who gleaned his theory from the Ralph Rene book NASA Mooned America! Though his prot�g� is "very gullible," according to Parnevik, Howell says, "Right now, I'm not 100 percent sure either way."
Thursday Inspired in part by Howell, Parnevik putts cross-handed for the first time (above, right). He drops a pair of 30-footers en route to a 65 and the lead. Later, at the range, Parnevik is confronted by a gorilla in a pink tutu. As the ape croons an abridged version of the Carpenters classic Close to You, 40 players and caddies join in. As a finale, the faux simian reads Parnevik a valentine: "Win one for us this week. Love, Mia and the kids." (The message is a plea: L.A. is Jesper's seventh straight week on the road, and he has told Mia he's not coming home until he wins.)
Friday Frustrated with rounds of 68-71, CH3 asks Parnevik for advice. He responds with a riddle: "Two guys in two hotel rooms have two empty boxes. Each box has its own padlock and key. One guy has a diamond, and he has to send it to the other through the bellboy. The bellboy can make unlimited trips between the rooms but will steal anything save a locked box. If the diamond is put in the box and locked up, he won't steal it. But if the key is sent, he'll steal that. How does one guy get the diamond to the other?"
Saturday Howell shoots a record 28 on the Riv's front nine and finishes with a 64, vaulting into sixth. "I was thinking about the riddle instead of golf," he says, "and I guess it worked out pretty good."
Sunday Having abandoned his putting experiment, Parnevik shoots 72 to skid to 29th. No homecoming is imminent. Howell shoots 69 to tie for sixth and is already looking forward to a practice round with Parnevik at La Costa. "I have to get the answer to the riddle out of him," he says. (A hint, Charles: If both padlocks are on the same box, with the diamond inside, you're golden.)