BLAINE, Minn. (AP) – A tap-in on the final green secured the 3M Championship for Tom Pernice Jr. The final putt a hole earlier was his most-important stroke.
Pernice birdied the final two holes Sunday for a one-stroke victory over Jeff Sluman and Corey Pavin. He finished with a 4-under 68 and had a 17-under 199 total at the TPC Twin Cities for his second career Champions Tour victory.
Trailing Sluman by one shot at the par-3 17th, Pernice played it safe with his tee shot to the middle of the green. He then made about a 40-foot slightly downhill putt to move into a tie.
“That really set everything up. It gave me a chance to make birdie on the last to win, which is a lot better than having to make birdie to get into a playoff,'' said Pernice, who also made a similar distance putt on Saturday to salvage bogey on No. 14.
At the par-5 18th, Pernice hit his second shot from 200 yards to 8 feet and two-putted for the winning birdie. It was his first win in 51 events dating to the 2009 SAS Championship, his first event as a member of the Champions Tour.
“I'm just thrilled to be able to finally get the victory. It's been a long, long spell,'' he said.
Pernice also has two PGA Tour victories.
Sluman closed with a 62, and Pavin had a 66.
Seeing what Sluman was shooting, Pernice stayed calm throughout the round. He had birdies on Nos. 3 and 4, and after a bogey on No. 9, made a birdie at No. 12 to get to 15 under.
“I just tried to tell myself to stay patient, stay relaxed and give yourself plenty of opportunities, and I did,'' Pernice said. “I hit a few poor drives from time to time, but my iron shots were good, and gave myself a lot of putting opportunities. I didn't really make any until the 12th hole. … It all worked out for the best for me and I feel fortunate enough to escape with a victory.''
Sluman, who began the day seven shots behind Pernice, birdied his first seven holes to get to 13 under. It is the first time since 2002, a tour player began his round with seven straight birdies.
After a par at the par-3 eighth hole, Sluman birdied the par-4 ninth hole to establish a nine-hole tournament record of 28.
“Any of us is capable of doing that,'' he said. “When it's happening to you, you just kind of go along with the flow and hit your shots. It's something that doesn't happen very, very often.''
Sluman, who won the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf this year with partner Brad Faxon, birdied No. 10 and parred three straight holes before a birdie on the par-4 14th put him alone in front at 16 under. He then failed to break par over the final four holes – missing a less than 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
“I played well coming in, but not getting birdie on either of the par 5s on the back nine obviously kind of hurt,'' he said. “All in all, I'm very pleased with the day.''
Sluman's score was one shot higher than the tournament record set three years ago by David Frost, and he was hoping to repeat what happened on the final day of last year's event when Bernhard Langer shot a 62 to come from six back to win. Langer skipped this year's tournament to play in a European Senior Tour event in Germany.
Starting the day three strokes behind Pernice, Pavin was 3 under on the front nine and matched that on the back nine, including birdies on two of his final three holes. He made a long par putt on the other.
“I felt comfortable out there and maybe I needed a few more holes, but Tom birdied the last two. Hats off to him,'' Pavin said.
Pavin hasn't finished worse than 19th in his last seven starts, including third-place finishes at the last two tour majors: the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior British Open.
Jay Haas, Bart Bryant and Rod Spittle tied for fourth at 14 under. Haas shot 65, Bryant 67 and Spittle 68.
Kenny Perry, coming off consecutive major victories in the Senior Players Championship and U.S. Senior Open, was two shots behind coming to the final hole, but his second shot went into the water and he finished with a 67. He was 13 under along with Colin Montgomerie, Craig Stadler and Kirk Triplett.
Tom Kite started the day two shots back and was hoping to become the oldest winner on 50-and-over tour history. The 63-year-old shot an even-par 72 and was one of five players to finish six shots back.