As it played out, Bob Estes shot a one-birdie, 17-par 70 at the TPC at Avenal to win his third PGA Tour title in the past 12 months.
Estes finished at 11-under-par 273 to collect the $648,000 first-place prize. Rich Beem, the 1999 Kemper champion, was runner-up, one back after a 69. Burns (72) tied Steve Elkington (69) for third place at 9-under.
'I knew I was going to need to make a few birdies and as it turned out one was all it took,' said Estes, who was the only player in the field not to card a bogey Sunday. 'It didn't have to be that way.'
The leaderboard was knotted with potential winners, until Burns tried to straighten the string in dramatic fashion. Tied with Estes and Beem at 10-under, Burns played a 9-iron from 156 yards at the par-3 11th. His ball landed well right of the flag, kicked hard left and rolled some 30 feet into the bottom of the cup for an ace.
Now leading the field by two, Burns followed his career best shot with a pushed tee ball into the right rough at the par-4 12th. He made bogey, while Elkington, who was playing five groups in front of overnight leaders, birdied the 14th and 15th holes to pull even with Burns at 11-under.
Likewise, Beem birdied 14 and 15 to reach minus-11.
Elkington, who, incidentally, has a caddie named Bob Burns, dropped his position after missing the green at the par-3 17th and making bogey. He was quickly replaced, however, when Estes rolled home a 15-footer for birdie at 14.
Beem also missed the green left at 17 and failed to get up and down, leaving Burns and Estes as the top twosome.
Playing in the final group, Estes and Burns both missed the green at the par-4 15th. Burns was fortunate when his tee shot kicked off the right-hand cart path and caromed into the first cut of rough, but pulled his approach onto a mound left of the putting surface.
With little green to work with, Burns flopped his third to four feet, while Estes splashed out from the sand 12 feet past the hole. Estes converted his lengthy save, and Burns followed suit.
At 16, Burns hit a wonderful approach shot that appeared headed within 15 feet of the hole. Instead, it made a detour off the back of the green, down the slope and into a drain ' along with his chance of winning.
After a free drop, Burns chose a putter for his third stroke, but the balls momentum died while rolling up the hill and stopped at the crest, never reaching the green. It took three more swipes of the flatstick to find the cup.
'Certainly I'm disappointed not to have won,' said Burns. 'I feel like I physically played the shots at 16, which ultimately cost me a chance at the tournament, exactly how I wanted to.'
Estes now led Beem, who was in the clubhouse, by one, at 11-under, and Burns by two.
He still had the treacherous 17th to play ' the hole that subtracted a stroke from both Beem and Elkington. Unfazed, the 36-year-old Texan laced a 7-iron inside 10 feet. He missed the birdie putt, but maintained his one-shot lead heading to the 72nd hole.
After splitting the fairway off the tee at 18, Estes hit his second shot dead center into the green, from where he successfully two-putted for par and victory.
'My experience helped out a lot today,' said Estes. 'Knowing when to play at flags, when to maybe hit a 2-iron off the tee instead of a 3-wood or a 3-wood instead of driver, it was a really smart round of golf for the most part.'
Estes won twice last season on tour at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and the Invensys Classic at Las Vegas.
Final results from the Kemper Open