POTOMAC -- Maybe it was fitting that the pins here have white flags. After two days of intense heat and record-setting scores, the Tournament Players Club course at Avenel officially surrendered during the third round of the $1 million Kemper Open.
A course-record 8-under-par 63 by Ted Schulz late yesterday morning set the tone, an afternoon rain delay of nearly two hours did its part to soften things some more and a bunch of red-hot players smashed the place to smithereens. By early last night, Schulz and his round were merely a footnote.
Hal Sutton, who began the round one shot ahead of Billy Andrade and Greg Norman, finished in the same position, at 18-under-par 195, after making a seven-foot putt for birdie moments after Norman had barely missed a 25-footer. All three ** shot equally brilliant, but almost routine, 7-under-par 64s. Jeff Sluman, who shot a second straight 64, is at 15-under 198.
"When I went out today, I wasn't going out to keep the lead," said Sutton, who shared it most of the round with Andrade, lost it briefly, but charged in front again with birdies on two the last four holes. "I wanted to play within myself, to play to the best of my abilities."
Avenel has brought out the best in a lot of previously struggling players. Norman, the tour's top money-winner in 1990, has been in a slump since winning last year's Memorial. Sutton, like Sluman a former PGA champion, hasn't won in five years. Andrade is winless in four years on the tour. With the exception of Sluman, none is among the top 50 money-winners this season.
"This is a great rut to be in," said Andrade of his back-to-back 64s. "I felt totally in control of what I was trying to do. After No. 6, I was saying, 'How low can we go?' "
Is there a 62 in the offing? The 6,904-yard course was even more defenseless than it had been during the first two rounds. The rain made the greens more inviting and didn't soak the fairways enough to make the course play any longer. Cooler weather is expected for today's final round.
"Some days on Sunday, you don't have to play great to win, but maybe this week is the week you do, you never know," said Andrade, whose best previous finish was a second-place tie last year at Westchester. "I know Greg and Hal aren't going to worry about me. You can only worry about yourself."
Norman, who played aggressively from the start, said: "The course was there to be had. It was tiger golf. We [he and Sutton] both played very well. We complemented each other. You shoot even-par today and you wouldn't be in the top 20. You know you have to shoot a low score. You've got to focus on making birdies."
They did yesterday. Andrade, playing in the twosome ahead of Sutton and Norman, put a 9-iron approach on the first hole six inches from the cup to start a run of five birdies in the first six holes. Sutton birdied four of the first six, and Norman birdied the second and fifth, then eagled the 479-yard, par-5 sixth hole.
It went back and forth all day, and into the early evening. Finally, after Sutton had pulled even with Andrade and Norman with a birdie at 15, it came down to the final hole. Norman drove into a fairway bunker, but made a nice recovery. Sutton was staring at a short birdie putt. Norman's ball hung on the lip. Sutton stepped up and made it.
"I wanted to play the golf course," Sutton said. "I didn't want to get into a situation where I was playing Greg Norman. I wasn't paying attention to the board. The course is laying down right now."
It laid down for a lot of people yesterday. Consider this: None of the top eight players on the leader board had a bogey the entire day. And this: the average score for the entire field yesterday VTC was a shade over 68. And this: The tournament record for four rounds is 16-under-par 268 by Tom Byrum two years ago. And this: Sutton's 54-hole total was five shots better than the previous Kemper record, set by Byrum in 1989, and only one off the lowest three rounds on the PGA Tour this year.
There were players who shot seemingly terrific rounds yesterday and lost ground. Bobby Wadkins started four shots behind and was five back after a 65. Bill Britton was three behind going into the round and found himself tied with Wadkins after a 66. Those at 12-under, including first-round leader Bob Gilder (68), are nearly out of it.
"Unbelievable," a dumbfounded Ben Crenshaw was heard to say after a 6-under-par 65 left him with Schulz and seven others at 11-under. "But you never know what can happen tomorrow."
Will Al Geiberger be watching to make sure his tour-record 59 is safe? Will the Shark retain his touch and regain prominence as one of the world's best players? Will Sutton end a long and often frustrating five-year drought? Will Andrade, who missed the cut in his first two attempts here, emerge from a pack of more prominent players to win his first pro tournament?
The white flags of Avenel await.
The leader . . .
Hal Sutton . . . . . 66-65-64195
. . and followers
Billy Andrade . . . .68-64-64196
Greg Norman . . . . .67-65-64196
Jeff Sluman . . . . .70-64-64198
Bobby Wadkins . . . .69-66-65200
Bill Britton . . . . 67-67-66200
Ben Crenshaw . . . . 70-67-65202