Sluman, 37, has been looking for his second victory for seven years, and this was his seventh runner-up finish in that time, the eighth of his career. Going back to the 1987 Players Championship, he has lost three playoffs. If Corey Pavin is the best American player yet to win a major, Sluman is the best American player whose only win is a major.
"Slu keeps amassing these second-place finishes," said CBS commentator Gary McCord, a friend of Sluman's, after Sunday's finish. "This is not going to affect anything. All you look at is how you're playing. If you're playing good, you're going to be knocking on the door, and sooner or later something is going to happen, kismet, whatever you want to call it, you're going to win. You really don't have much to do with it. He'll be fine."
Jacobsen could relate to McCord's comments about kismet. Jacobsen went five years without a victory before winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. The very next week he won again at the Buick Invitational of California. At the Doral-Ryder Open in Miami he finished one shot behind winner Nick Faldo, and he was third at the Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill. A win in Greensboro would have put him over $1 million for the year and made him the ninth player in the 1990s to win three times in a year. Knowing that and knowing he was tied with Gallagher, Jacobsen went for the pin with a seven-iron on the 72nd hole, came up short and made a bogey from an awkward lie in a bunker. With his $132,000 runner-up check, he leapfrogged past Love to Number 1 on the money list, with $870,321.
"There's nothing like winning," Jacobsen had said on Saturday night. "It's the most infectious, contagious thing we can do out here. But it's so elusive. When you win and win again, whether it's over a two-year period or a five-year period, or you win a major, as both Sluman and Tway have done, you feel like you can do it again and again. The problem is, there are so many good players that slip in right past you."
This week it was Gallagher, who was one under after 27 holes and at risk of missing the cut. He played the last 45 holes in 13 under, moving from 26th place after the first round, to 16th after the second, to 10th after the third and finally to the top of the heap. His first trip to the press room all week was Sunday evening for the winner's interview. "I was out there playing, and all of a sudden I was back in the tournament," Gallagher said.
The field at Greensboro was the weakest since the Tour left California in March. Among the missing stars were Norman, Faldo, Azinger, Nick Price, Fred Couples, Ernie Els, John Daly, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange and Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, all of whom decided to take the week off. Sparse galleries at Forest Oaks reflected the lackluster leader board, making the event seem more like a Nike Tour stop with a $1.5 million purse.
But on Saturday, when the mercury hit 85�, record crowds flocked to Forest Oaks, and it didn't matter that Kirk Triplett was leading at 11 under. Jacobsen had shot a second-round 65, which included two holed-out bunker shots for birdies, and was just one stroke back. On Saturday, Jacobsen passed Triplett by a shot with a 69 but was in turn passed by Sluman, who fired a 66. But Sluman didn't stop to celebrate his round. Instead, he hopped into a limousine for an hour's drive to his sister-in-law's wedding reception down the road in Pinehurst.
Jacobsen was asked Saturday night if he could relate to Sluman's struggles. "The only thing Jeff Sluman has to do is battle his eagerness, his over-anxiousness to get it over with and get the W in the record book," he said. It was a sentiment that could have applied to just about every player within eight shots of the lead. There was Triplett, who played the Asian, Canadian and Australian tours in the late '80s after failing to get his card at the Tour qualifying school three times. A 77 in Sunday's cold dropped him to 14th. There was Brad Bryant, still looking for his first victory after 17 years on the Tour and seven runner-up finishes. He fell to 25th on Sunday with a 76. There was John Adams, who was the last qualifier out of last year's Tour school. He hung tough in the final round and shot 70 to finish third and take home his biggest paycheck, $72,000. And there was Hal Sutton, who won 1983 PGA and Players Championships but who hasn't been in the winner's circle since 1986.
"One of the unfortunate things in golf is that we always think we can be doing better than what we are," Sutton said. "I wasn't playing very well [in the early '90s], so I decided to change my swing, and that's where it all started."
In Sutton's case that's where it almost ended, too. It wasn't until he returned to his old teacher, Jimmy Ballard, in late 1993 that he began seeing positive results again. He finished second twice in 1994, and Tway's win bolstered his belief that there is a victory out there for him, too. It just wasn't this week. Sutton was only two strokes off the lead at the halfway point of Greensboro but shot 74-71 on the weekend and finished 12th. "The fact that Bob did it put some security in my mind," Sutton said. "I've felt for a long time that it's there. It's hard to sit back and let it come to you, but you just can't force it. When it's your time, it's your timeout here."