The smallest man in American professional golf took a giant step toward stardom Sunday.
Under the kind pressure that only the final day of a major golf championship can bring, 5-foot-7, 135-pound Jeff Sluman played the round of his life.Sluman shot a 6-under-par 65, swept past third-round leader Paul Azinger and won the PGA Championship by three shots.
Ignited by a 90-yard wedge shot for an eagle at the par-5 fifth hole, the 30-year-old Sluman became the first player in 12 years to make a major championship his first victory and he received $160,000 for his efforts.
"It was one of those days when everything worked," Sluman said. "It's great to win a major. I can't imagine Jack Nicklaus winning 20 of them."
Sluman's 65, the lowest final round ever shot by a PGA champion, gave him a 72-hole total of 12-under 272 - one stroke off the tournament record posted 24 years ago by Bobby Nichols.
Azinger, who began the day a shot in front and who at one time had a three-stroke advantage, had to scramble all day for an even-par 71 and a 9-under 275 total worth $100,000. It was the second time in as many years he had finished second in a major tournament, letting a lead slip away to Nick Faldo in last year's British Open.
"This one won't nag at me," said Azinger, who gave the tournament its highlight with a hole-in-one during Saturday's round. "When you give one away, it hurts. But when someone shoots a 65 and takes it away, you can't do anything about that."
Sluman had been on the fringe of stardom for the past two years, but could not break through with a victory.
Twice in 1987 he finished second, losing a playoff to Sandy Lyle in the Players Championship. Sluman had a 6-foot birdie putt to win that title on the second extra hole only to be distracted by a spectator who jumped into the water nearby. He missed the putt and lost to Lyle on the next hole.
"I've told people that I tried to forget about that the next week," Sluman said. "I will never know if I could have made the putt. It hasn't bothered me since then and I sure didn't think about it today."
Soon after Sunday's round began, the tournament turned into a two-man race.
Tommy Nakajima eagled the 16th and birdied the 18th to shoot a 67 and finished third at 6-under 278, bringing him $70,000.
Tom Kite also rushed from the pack with a 67 and finished in a tie for fourth with Faldo at 5-under 279, both winning $45,800.
Dave Rummells, who began the day a shot out of the lead, faded with a 75 and wound up at 4-under tied with first-round leader Bob Gilder.
Greg Norman, playing his first tournament since injuring his wrist in the U.S. Open, finished in a group at 2-under. Defending U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange wound up at 2-over 286, as did Chip Beck, who with his check of $4,842 moved into the No. 1 spot on the tour money winning list.
The last player to win his first pro tournament in a major championship was Jerry Pate, who made the 1976 U.S. Open his initial triumph. West German Bernhard Langer's first American tour win came in the 1985 Masters, but he had previously won tournaments on the European circuit.
Sluman, who has spent seven years on the tour and once had to regain his playing privileges because of poor play, is the smallest player on the PGA tour.
At 5-7 he is the same height as his good friend and Oak Tree Golf Club member Willie Wood, but he weighs 10 pounds less.
Sluman stayed at Wood's house this week.
"I guess I'll go back to Willie's house and drink a few beers and we'll talk about this," Sluman said. "What I have to do now is keep on doing what I've been doing. I've won a major championship, but right now I don't classify myself in the same category as the other guys who have won majors this year (Sandy Lyle, Curtis Strange and Seve Ballesteros).
Sluman began the day three shots behind Azinger and stayed there through the first four holes as both players picked up one birdie.
Then Sluman hit the shot that started him on his way. After two good shots at the 590-yard, par-5 fifth, he holed his wedge for a three. Moments later Azinger bogeyed that hole after a poor tee shot and the two players were tied.
Sluman took the lead for good at the par-4 seventh with a 10-foot birdie putt, moments before Azinger three-putted the sixth for a bogey.