The Bob Hope Classic always promises a shootout, and this year's was a dandy. Two of them, in fact. Jesper Parnevik fired the first shot during the opening round on Jan. 19, wearing fire-engine-red pants accented by a belt buckle made from the head of a one-iron, Doug Sanders, the self-styled Flamingo of the Fairways who was making a triumphant return to the Hope, answered the following day with an all-green outfit that included shoes of green patent leather. Parnevik parried on Friday with a baby-blue ensemble. By the final round the immensely likable 34-year-old Swede could do no better than basic black. "I was out of the big colors," he says.
Like Sanders, a talented player in the 1950s, '60s and early 70s whose Technicolor wardrobe got more attention than his game, Parnevik is sometimes taken for a court jester in skin-tight trousers. In truth, he is one of the world's premier players, as he showed in his stirring performance at the Hope. He went 64-65 last weekend and made a clutch birdie at the 90th hole to earn a one-shot victory over Rory Sabbatini. Parnevik won on the strength of superior ball striking. He hit a whopping 76 of 90 greens, which overcame some spotty putting. "My touch [was] so bad all week," Parnevik said on Sunday evening. "Just terrible."
How do you shoot 27 under par and win a golf tournament while putting like Ray Charles? "I hit it inside of 10 feet all week," said Parnevik.
In fact, he has knocked down pins throughout the first three weeks of the season. On his way to tying for sixth at the season-opening Mercedes Championships, he made more birdies than the winner, Tiger Woods, but was undone by five double bogeys in the high winds. The following week Parnevik tied for third at the Sony Open. He may finally be ready to take up permanent residence on PGA Tour leader boards. Though he has won a Tour event in each of the last three years, he has always been a part-timer on these shores. (He has seven career victories in Europe.) At the Hope he said, "I'm a member of the U.S. Tour this year."
The decision was a matter of the heart. Parnevik was forced to sit out the final 10 weeks of last year because of arrhythmia, a condition he says is exacerbated by long sojourns overseas from his home base in Jupiter, Fla. (Another factor in the decision was Parnevik's running feud with Ken Schofield, executive director of the European tour, over the minimum number of tournaments Parnevik must play to remain a member of that tour.) "Usually 15 to 20 tournaments has been my limit [in the U.S.], and it would be fun to play, like, 25 tournaments, just to see how well I can do on the money list," says Parnevik, who has the early lead in this year's dollar chase with $808,700. "I know Tiger can play 15 and win by miles, but it would be fun to challenge him."
Money is only one measure of success, however. Last week Parnevik again proved that he has no equal when it comes to winning with style.