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Sluman, and his fans, hoping to make hometown history
Making a great first impression? Starting out on a high note? Getting off on the right foot? How about pulling a Jeff Sluman?
His first win on the PGA Tour came at the 1988 PGA Championship. If all goes well tomorrow, his first win on the Champions Tour just might happen at another major championship -- the 2008 Senior PGA Championship.
"I'm probably going to be a little nervous, a little jumpy again, starting the round out," Sluman said. "...Hopefully I'll just go out and trust what got me here. I've been playing well lately so there's no reason to think that I won't do that (again)."
The win would be especially sweet since he hails from Rochester, site of the season's -- and Sluman's -- first major championship on the Champions Tour.
"It's going to be great tomorrow. The weather is going to be perfect," he said. "...I think the golf's going to be terrific and I know the people who are going to come out and whoever wins is going to play some terrific golf and it might not even come from our threesome. You don't know."
Sluman will pair with close friend Jay Haas and fellow rookie Bernhard Langer in the final group.
Langer has already won twice this season. Haas is the reigning Player of the Year on the Champions Tour.
Yet Sluman has an advantage that those two don't -- he's the crowd favorite and has played hundreds of times at Oak Hill Country Club. He is also the protégé of Craig Harmon, who has served as the PGA Head Professional at Oak Hill for more than 30 years.
"Obviously he's the hometown boy here and people took a liking to him and they just treat him very special," Langer said. "...He's played some really good golf and I played pretty much as good as I can, too. And that was fun to watch and be a part of."
While the crowd's support gives Sluman a boost when he is playing well, the glare of the spotlight can also bring added pressure. This week, he's Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Mick Jagger all rolled into one.
"When Greg was out playing and now Tiger and that, they had (huge galleries and rock-star status) every week. I don't know how you really handle that. Everybody expecting you to play great golf, Greg and Tiger, they expect it every week," Sluman said.
"It was kind of like that for me this week. It's like that every week for those guys. So it's a little challenging for me because I'm not used to it. The more you're put in a situation, the more comfortable you feel."
In the third round, Sluman's scorecard was dotted with circles and squares. He made three birdies and two bogeys to turn in 34 strokes then, after two birdies and three bogeys, he closed with a back-nine 36 for a total of 70 shots over 18 holes.
He didn't exactly plan to finish with three straight bogeys on Nos. 16-18, but Sluman wasn't too disappointed at sitting tied for second heading into the final round.
"I played well today. And I thought I did what I obviously set out to do, hit a lot of fairways and greens," Sluman said.
He had the stats to back that statement up -- Sluman hit the fairway 10 times in 14 tries (71.4 percent) and landed on the green in regulation 13 out of 18 times (72.2 percent).
"I missed two fairways until I got to No. 16. So that's obviously the key out here at Oak Hill," he said. "...I was in a good flow out there. I was putting terrific. And, at the end, hit a bad drive on 16."
His drive on the 16th hole was one of those "just get it in play" type of swings. When he found the green, though, Sluman still had a chance to save par but couldn't convert.
On No. 17, a 460-yard par 4, his drive was perfect and his second shot with a 7-iron nearly dropped into the hole. But he three-putted, missing a short one almost identical to a putt that Langer had failed to sink moments before.
By the 18th hole, any of his momentum after making birdie on Nos. 14 and 15 had clearly deflated. After struggling to find the green on the final hole, Sluman stood over an 8-footer for par.
"That was a putt in all the years I can't ever remember having from about eight feet there to that pin above it," he said of his penultimate putt. "I kept looking at it, trying to see it going a little right and that's where I ended up playing it. Because Bernhard's looked like, at the end from the other side of the hole, it looked like it went a little left.
"But I hit it on the left edge and that's where it stayed."
As that putt inched closer and closer to the hole, the crowd wanted to let out a chorus of "Slus" and cheers. When it steered an inch to the left, they groaned along with him.
Whatever happens Sunday, the 50-year-old has already thrilled his fans for the entire week. But what a great story they would witness if Sluman captured his first win -- a major championship, no less -- in his hometown.
If he did, Sluman would join an elite list. Only three players in history have captured their initial wins on the PGA Tour and as a senior in major championships, including the legendary Jack Nicklaus.