Sluman's up-and-down didn't make it on the air, but Kite produced its mirror image a short time later, pitching from long grass on the other side of the 7th green. Kite's shot went into the hole for birdie—the key stroke of his victory charge and the most-played highlight of the '92 Open. Asked if it bothers him that Kite's shot was played a million times and his didn't even air, Sluman smiles. "That stuff has never bothered me," he says.
On to the so-called Cliffs of Doom holes. On number 8, Sluman made what he calls a "routine par"—if any par can be routine when fish and otters are practically raining on the fairway. On number 9 he drove into the left rough and made his only bogey of the day.
It was on the 426-yard 10th hole that Sluman most distinguished himself. Player after player had tried to reach the green in regulation, aiming his shot out over the sea and counting on the wind to blow the ball back. Most of the balls ended up on the beach or on the ice-plant-covered escarpment. ABC reported that of the 14 players who immediately preceded Sluman, seven had made double bogey and three had made triple bogey. "A professional golfer's ego says, This is a par-4," Sluman says, trying to explain the lemminglike behavior of his peers. "I've hit a good drive. The yardage is right. If I hit a perfect shot, I can get home."
Sluman's ego was more sensible, even though he had birdied the hole the day before. His ball was in a good lie in the first cut of the right rough, but Sluman told Navarro, "There's no way I'm gonna hit that green in this wind." So he bumped a head-high two-iron down the left side to a patch of fairway free of trouble. From there he pitched to about six feet and sank the putt for a par that was as good as an eagle. "Incredible," said ABC's Steve Melnyk, noticing Sluman for the first time. "Smart play."
Sluman showed his resourcefulness again on the par-5 14th hole, where his approach caromed off the firm green and into short grass behind a scalped chipping area. Earlier in the week Nicklaus had said that no chipping club could get the ball close from there, so Sluman took his putter and rolled the ball up the bank, onto the green and down near the hole. He then made a five-footer for yet another par save. ("Putting in those conditions is a lottery," he says. "Anything longer than 12 inches you can miss.")
By scrambling for pars while others were begging for bogeys, Sluman had put himself into a second-place tie with Montgomerie, three strokes behind Kite. Sluman refused even to glance at a scoreboard—"I was totally focused," he says—but he knew. After all, his playing partner, Jim Gallagher Jr., was shooting 83, and for two hours Sluman had seen contenders hitting from the beach and searching for balls in the ice plants. "As a golfer, you have that intuition," he says. "I knew I had passed a lot of people."
In the end, he would pass everyone but Kite, whose final-round 72 took the Open trophy and is the highlight of a 19-win Tour career. Ask Kite to comment on Sluman's round, however, and he fixes you with a cold stare. "Ask Sluman," he says. "How would I know what he was doing?"
Sluman, a sharp-witted man who withholds his bons mots from the press for fear of saying something inappropriate, is more gracious. Pointing out that Kite drove his ball on the final hole to the ocean side of the big cypress tree in the fairway, Sluman says, "That was a wonderful test of nerves and composure. If you can come to the 18th hole at Pebble Beach with a two-shot lead and drive it left of that tree, you deserve to be the U.S. Open champion."
Not that Sluman's finish was lame. In a 35-to 40-mph crosswind, he punched a nine-iron approach over the front bunker, and the ball came to rest a foot from the hole. The gallery at the 18th green, exercising rusty vocal chords, let out a roar. When Sluman walked onto the green it was to chants of "Slu! Slu! Slu!"
Sluman's final-hole birdie gave him a 71 and made him the leader in the clubhouse, bin he felt more like a mugging victim than a contender. "It was such a brutal day," he recalls. "I would like to have been in a playoff, but I was so tired and worn out from that round. I don't think either Tom or I wanted to play another 18 holes on Monday."