POTOMAC -- Billy Andrade has been trying to prove for four years that he belonged among the best golfers in the world. It wasn't the other players on the PGA Tour who questioned Andrade's potential.
It was Andrade himself.
"I feel I've worked very hard, that I won as a junior, I won as an amateur, but I hadn't won where it counted, and that's out here," Andrade, 27, said last night. "Until you win a golf tournament, you're not going to be respected by your peers. People remember winners."
Those who watched him charge down the stretch in yesterday's final round of the $1 million Kemper Open at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel won't forget what Andrade did. And certainly Jeff Sluman won't either.
After he made birdies on 16 and 17 to pull even with Sluman, and saved par from two bunkers at 18 to force a playoff at 21-under-par 263, Andrade beat his best friend on tour with a moot birdie on the first hole of sudden death.
"That was very difficult in the playoff," said Andrade, who after putting his tee shot seven feet from cup, watched Sluman hit his into a lake in front of the green on the 195-yard par-3 17th hole. "If I wasn't going to win, I wanted him to. It just happened to be my time."
The victory in his first tour playoff was worth $180,000 to Andrade, who came into the tournament 79th on the money list and came into the round one shot behind Hal Sutton, tied with Greg Norman at 17-under par. Bill Britton (66) finished three shots back, and Sutton (72) and Norman (71) were tied with Mark Brooks (65) at 17-under 267.
While Andrade's late charge was reminiscent of another Wake Forest graduate named Palmer, the playoff was anticlimactic. It was the second sudden-death loss for Sluman, who was defeated by Sandy Lyle in three extra holes of the 1987 Tournament Players Championship. "It's obviously a tremendous disappointment," said Sluman, whose only tour victory is the 1988 PGA Championship. "I thought I hit a pretty good shot there [on the playoff hole]. It needed one more foot to get across. I was really surprised it went in the water."
Sluman, who came into the round three shots off the lead, was seemingly in control of the tournament after playing the first 14 holes at 6-under par. But as Norman, Sutton and eventually Britton faded, and Sluman missed chances at three possible birdies, the door opened for Andrade.
Andrade also got a boost after a fan made a sarcastic remark to him when he missed a chance for birdie at 15. "He said to me, 'Nice showing,' " Andrade said. "It kind of ticked me off, but I guess he paid his money to get in here."
Giving the record crowd of 52,000 their money's worth, Andrade closed within two shots with a seven-foot birdie putt on 16 and within one with a 10-foot birdie on 17. Sluman was sitting in the scorer's tent after a 7-under 65, expecting to play more golf.
"After Billy made the birdie at 17, I told my caddie that there was going to be a playoff," Sluman said later.
It didn't look that way when Andrade pushed his drive on 18 into a fairway bunker. With a large mound of grass blocking his view to the green, and the pin 175 yards away, Andrade changed from a 5-iron to a 6-iron. But his approach didn't quite make it, landing in a pot bunker right below the hole.
"I've got to be one of the worst long bunker players on tour, so I was kind of afraid and nervous about that first shot," Andrade said. "But I said to myself: 'This is it. You can't make excuses. If you make bogey, you're not going to win.' When I got in there [the greenside bunker], I said, 'Let's try to hole this thing.' The result was very nice."
He popped the shot within three feet of the cup, and after Sutton had putted out, stepped up and made par. Suddenly, there they were, these two buddies playing for first prize.
Before the round had started, Sluman had told Andrade, "It's you and me." Sluman picked the No. 2 out of a hat, meaning that Andrade would hit first. He pulled out his 6-iron and hit it even better than he had moments before, the ball coming to a stop seven feet from the hole on No. 17.
But when Sluman's tee shot hit a bank in front of the hazard and rolled back in, it was all over. He hit a second tee shot that landed 16 feet from the cup, and went over to Andrade, conceding it was an awkward moment for a man whose last victory was in his home state Open four years ago in Rhode Island.
"I feel sorry for him," said Andrade. "If it had been someone like Greg Norman, it would have been unbelievable. Winning the tournament, I'm very ecstatic, very happy. I couldn't believe his ball went in the water."
Sluman, obviously distressed by what happened, said jokingly that he only wished Andrade would have forgotten to commit to playing Kemper, as he did in Dallas last month. As it turned out, Andrade phoned in his commitment while playing a pro-am last week with the son of tournament chairman Ben Brundred Jr.
"He played great. My hat's off to him," said Sluman, who earned $108,000 to jump to 10th on the money list [$372,239]. "You've got to keep your chin up and assume that your time will come."
It came for Andrade last night.
The winner . . .
*Billy Andrade 68-64-64-67263
. . . and followers
Jeff Sluman .. 70-64-64-65263
Bill Britton ..67-67-66-66266
Mark Brooks .. 67-67-68-65267
Greg Norman .. 67-65-64-71267
Hal Sutton .. .66-65-64-72267
Ben Crenshaw ..70-67-65-70272
Larry Mize .. .69-68-65-70272
Payne Stewart .71-66-67-69273
Lanny Wadkins .70-67-68-71276
Scott Gump .. .65-70-68-73276
* -- won in playoff
Odds and ends
Low score: 64, Jay Haas
High score: 75, Kenny Perry
Best hole: Eagle 2s by Tom Byrum and Ben Crenshaw on 415-yard, par-4 16th.
Worst hole: Quadruple-bogey 8 on 18 by John Huston.
Biggest differential between nines: Seven shots by Perry (34-41) and Brian Kamm (33-40).
Records set: 21-under 263 by Billy Andrade and Jeff Sluman (tournament record).
Cards of the leaders after the final round yesterday in the $1 million Kemper Open on the 6,867-yard, 36-35-71 Tournament Players Club course at Avenel:
Par out: .. .. 453 445 443-36
Andrade out: ..453 434 443-34
Britton out: ..443 443 443-33
Norman out: .. 453 543 433-34
Sluman out: .. 353 334 344-32
Sutton out: .. 453 444 444-36
Par in: .. .. .434 544 434-35-71284
Andrade in: .. 434 544 324-33-67263
Britton in: .. 324 444 444-33-66266
Norman in: .. .444 554 434-37-71267
Sluman in: .. .335 434 434-33-65263
Sutton in: .. .426 443 535-36-72267