CONCORD, Mass. (AP) — Jeff Sluman’s game was “in tatters” when he began playing on the Champions Tour last September. His putting at the end of his first win in a senior event was terrific.
When Sluman rolled in a 34-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole Sunday to wrap up the Bank of America Championship with an 8-under 64, runner-up Loren Roberts bowed to the winner and waved his arms up and down.
Quite a gesture from the man known as the “Boss of the Moss” for his putting prowess.
“I hope it happens a few more times,” Sluman said after his three birdies on the last four holes gave him a 17-under 199 total and a two-shot victory over Roberts (67). The 64 was best final round by a winner on the tour this year.
Playing in the same threesome, they made the tournament a two-man race for most of the back nine.
“It was a little bit of match play there,” said Roberts, the second-round leader by one stroke over Sluman and Mark McNulty. “Then he stepped on the gas.”
Sluman, who turned 50 last Sept. 11, took his first lead of the tournament with a 13-foot birdie putt at the 338-yard 15th hole at the 6,741-yard Nashawtuc Country Club course. His putter gave him a two-stroke lead when he knocked a shot of just over 30 feet into the center of the cup at the 171-yard 17th.
Roberts still had a slim chance at the 18th when he left himself a 5-foot birdie putt. But that became meaningless when Sluman went first and rammed his ball from 34 feet into the cup, finishing with a birdie.
“You get real comfortable when you make putts like I did on 15 and 17,” Sluman said, the burden of winning his first Champions event now gone. “I feel I can relax a little more and go out and have some fun.”
Roberts has won seven times in his 3 1/2 years on the tour but could sense how Sluman felt.
“I knew that he really wanted to win badly as soon as he could,” Roberts said.
Dana Quigley (68) and McNulty (70) tied for third at 205, six strokes behind Sluman and one ahead of John Cook (68).
Sluman’s last win was at the Greater Milwaukee Open on the PGA Tour in June 2002. And five days after he became eligible for the Champions Tour on his 50th birthday, he tied for 15th in his debut at the Greater Hickory Classic.
“I knew when I turned 50 in September, my game needed a lot of work,” Sluman said. “It was really in tatters.”
He finished no better than a 12th place tie in his five Champions tournaments last year and cracked the top 10 only once in his first six senior events this year.
But, he said, “I felt like I had enough game to win out here.”
On the first hole Sunday, Sluman made birdie to tie Roberts at 10 under. But Roberts held a one-stroke lead at 14 under through nine holes before Sluman tied him again with a birdie at the 10th.
Then play was suspended for 1 hour, 42 minutes because of a thunderstorm that Sluman said didn’t seem to affect him.
“Everybody just kind of grabbed a plate of pasta and waited it out,” he said.
After play resumed, Sluman and Roberts made pars on each of the next four holes. Then Sluman perfected his stroke on the last four greens with the three birdies.
“That,” Roberts said, “is going to be hard to beat.”
He was the golfer on Saturday who sank a birdie at 18 to take the lead. By the time he made another one there Sunday, it was too late.
Sluman needed just 24 putts Sunday and played the last 43 holes with 14 birdies and no bogeys. He also had four birdies on the first five holes in the final round.
“I started off fast,” he said. “and finished fast.”
Notes: Tom Kite, who tied a tournament record with a first-round 63, hit his ball out of bounds on the 18th hole Sunday and shot a 76. He finished in a 20th-place tie at 5-under-211. … Defending champion Jay Haas, winner of the last two events on the tour, also faded as the tournament progressed, shooting 68-72-75 for 215. … Roberts played in the event for the first time this year.