In the end it was just a tap-in. One mindless sweep of the putter by Tom Pernice Jr. from mere inches away that sealed up his title in a tense final round in the 3M Championship.
If anyone deserved a gimme birdie for a win, it was this guy.
A day after dropping an improbable, sidewinding 45-foot bogey putt to maintain the tournament lead by two strokes heading into Sunday’s finale at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Pernice did it again. This time, it set him up for victory.
Trailing birdie machine Jeff Sluman by one shot, Pernice drained a 45-foot downhill birdie putt on the 17th hole and barely flinched as playing partners Tom Kite and Jay Don Blake approached for celebratory fist bumps.
“I didn’t want to get too excited,” Pernice said.
There was still a little work to be done.
Standing 200 yards away in the fairway after his drive on the par-5 18th, Pernice knocked a 5-iron shot to within 10 feet of the cup and easily two-putted for the title.
Pernice finished his final round with a 4-under-par 68 to get to 17-under 199 for the tournament, one better than Sluman and former UCLA teammate Corey Pavin.
Jay Haas, Bart Bryant and Rod Spittle all finished three shots back.
“I snuck one out,” said Pernice, who collected $262,500 for his second Champions Tour victory in his first appearance in the 3M Championship. “I just tried to tell myself, ‘Just stay patient, stay relaxed and give yourself plenty of opportunities.’ ”
He did, but they took a while to arrive.
Sluman started the day seven shots behind Pernice before tearing up the front nine for a tournament-record 8-under 28. Pernice turned in 1 under.
Playing six groups ahead, Sluman completed his round one shot off the tournament record with a blistering 10-under 62. As he was finishing up, Pernice made a 6-foot birdie on No. 12 that he said jolted his chances back to life.
“That’s what happens out here on the Champions Tour,” said Pavin, who narrowly missed a chip-in for eagle on No. 18 that would have forced a playoff yet stuck around to greet his longtime friend. “Guys don’t back up. Hats off to him for that bomb on 17.”
With Sluman keeping loose on the driving range and Pavin waiting nearby just in case, Pernice did just enough. He hit only eight of 14 fairways Sunday but made up for it with his play on the par-5s during the tournament. He carded birdies on 10 of the 12, including the last little tap.
His emotions after sinking the short winning putt were as vanilla as when he drained the long one a hole earlier.
“I had a calmness about me,” Pernice said. “In this crazy game, you never know how it’s supposed to happen, it just happens. How do you explain it? You don’t. You just try and do the best you can and try not to waste any shots. It worked out good for me this week.”
Plenty of players probably felt they had a chance at the winner’s check at some juncture Sunday. At one point there was an 11-way tie at 11 under par, at the time that number was only four shots out of the lead.
Sluman set the standard with his hot start. His seven consecutive birdies to start the final round were the most in succession on the Champions Tour in 11 years.
“I knew it had the chance to be a very special day,” Sluman said. “I wasn’t counting on [this] to start.”
Bidding to win a third consecutive Champions Tour event, Schwab Cup points leader Kenny Perry carded 20 birdies in the 54-hole event but settled for a seventh-place tie four shots back.
Perry came to the 18th hole trailing by two but rinsed his second shot into the greenside pond to end his chances.
“I just hit it heavy,” Perry said. “I had to go at it hard, thinking maybe I could hole out for some magic.”
Turns out Pernice used it all up.