- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

The 35th Kemper Open stands as proof positive that bold isn't always beautiful.
Yesterday's scrap for the crystal at TPC at Avenel ultimately boiled down to one hole and two vastly different approaches. Career journeyman Bob Burns took a shot at perfection and slumped off punished. Tour veteran Bob Estes took a more timid tack and walked off with the Waterford.
"I played with a lot of self-discipline, and it paid off today because the way the golf course was set up," said the 36-year-old Estes, who collected his fourth Tour victory courtesy of a bogey-free, final-round 70 that left him atop an ever-shifting leader board at 11-under 273. "I pretty much just played what I thought was the smartest play on every single shot because the golf course didn't allow you to play too aggressively."
The Estes approach has always been ultra-conservative. And yesterday, his round of 17 pars and one birdie bordered on downright boring. But golf has always had a special place in its heart for grinders. And on a day when a baked-out, breezy Avenel played more like a U.S. Open track than a typical fire-at-the-flag Tour venue, discretion certainly triumphed over aggression.
"It was a U.S. Open kind of setup and round," said Estes, who clipped 1999 Kemper Open champion Rich Beem by one stroke and Burns and Steve Elkington by two. "I think my experience from having played in a bunch of major championships in the past helped me out a lot today."
Nowhere did that experience pay more dividends than on Avenel's 16th hole. Estes came to that pivotal hole tied with Burns at 11 under. The two were paired in the tournament's final group after sharing the overnight lead at 10 under. And though challengers had jumped up to join them atop the board all day, none had been able to survive Avenel's nasty closing stretch unscathed.
The pond-guarded 17th hole had bitten Beem, Elkington and Justin Leonard (8 under) before them, costing all three bogey or worse and effectively ending their chances for victory. And perhaps many of the 53,000 fans on hand expected the infamous 17th, with its history of water-logged woe, to decide yesterday's man of the moment. But it was the par-4 16th that ultimately took those honors, earning itself a newfound place in Kemper lore.
After two near-perfect drives left both men centered in the fairway, Estes played first. The unflappable Texan stuck with his gameplan, avoiding the treacherous back left pin position and playing a 7-iron safely to 30 feet right of the flag.
Unlike Estes, Burns was in the mood to make a little history. After all, he had recorded one masterstroke on the day already, acing the 157-yard 11th hole with a brilliantly shaped 9-iron. After a booming drive on the 16th, he had the same club in his hands and a similar thought. He saw the shot in his mind, a high, gentle draw from 151 yards out. He wasn't overly concerned about the impossibly deep bunker guarding the left edge of the green. And he didn't think he could carry the ball past the pin to the slick slope funneling into a collection area.
"It was a perfect yardage for me, and I wasn't thinking about anything but executing it," said Burns, who turned pro in 1991 but has nothing but two Nike Tour victories to show for his 11 years of work. "I hit a textbook shot in there. I mean, just like I wanted."
The result was anything but. Burns' ball landed inches beyond pin high, jumped past on the firm surface and tried desperately to stop 12 feet behind the cup. After literally quivering at the top of the shaved fall line on the back of the green, Burns' ball began to trickle, picking up speed and rolling 40 feet away into the bottom of the collection area.
"I couldn't see it from the fairway, but it kind of chaps me to hear it almost stopped," Burns said. "But that's golf. That's just a bad break. I'll tell you what, I'd try to hit the same shot again."
Said Estes of the decision: "That pin position is as dangerous as it gets. But Bob hasn't won on Tour before, and maybe sometimes that's what you've got to do to get that first one. If you want to win a golf tournament, sometimes you have to take a chance and shoot at a flag you might not normally. It could have ended up 10 or 12 feet from the hole instead of trickling off the green. If it stays on the green and he makes that putt, he probably wins the tournament."
But it didn't stay on the green, and what followed was a complete horror show. Burns selected a putter for his next play up the steep slope, citing what he called a "scuzzy lie to get a club on." He hammered the putt up the shaved bank but still came up short, barely reaching the fringe and facing a sliding 20-footer for par. His second putt hopped left out of the fringe and skidded three feet past the hole. And his bogey effort, a tentative stroke, sagged below the hole, leaving him with a damning double bogey.
"I had tremendous difficulty reading the speed of these greens all week, and the last little bit of that mess was a result of that issue," Burns said. "I'm disappointed because I had a real chance there. But I can't take anything away from Bob Estes. He's a machine."
Indeed, Estes was as methodical and relentless as a tank in his march toward victory yesterday. He protected his lead with two perfect approaches on Nos. 17 and 18. And when he cleaned up a two-putt par from 25 feet on No. 18, he became the only man in the field to post a bogey-free final round.
"It feels great to win again," said Estes, who has now won three times in the last nine months. "It feels especially good to win the way I did today, without making a bogey, because I pride myself in my ability to manage courses and avoid mental mistakes. That's what I did this week. I beat the course as much as the field."


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