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Beem goes from hunted to hunter

8/18/2002

CHASKA, Minn. -- There was no reason to expect Rich Beem to
be leading the PGA Championship with five holes to play in the
third round Saturday. Apparently, Beem didn't expect it, either.

''It's a major, and guys like me aren't supposed to contend in a
major,'' Beem said.

So because he tried being Tiger Woods instead of himself as the
wind calmed down and the birdies started coming for the leaders
late in the afternoon, Beem is three shots down to Justin Leonard
entering Sunday's final round.

After spending 2½ days carefully building a 1-shot lead going
into the 14th hole, Beem lost it in a potentially pivotal five-hole
swing that turned Beem from leader to chaser.

Maybe it's because he was playing on the Dakotas Tour only a
couple of years ago, and not playing all that well. But it seemed
as if Beem suddenly realized where he was -- and began to wonder
what he was doing there.

''I don't have any expectations of winning,'' he said. ''It
takes something special to win a major, and I don't know if I've
got it. ... It's going to be really tough to catch (Leonard).''

So much for being overconfident.

What might have hurt him was being overly aggressive. He started
to chase birdies as the scoring conditions improved, rather than
letting them come to him.

''I don't stick to game plans very well,'' Beem said. ''I kind
of make it up as I go along.''

Leading by a shot going into the par-4 14th, Beem hit his tee
shot far right, behind a tree in the deep rough. Instead of hitting
into the fairway and pitching up, he tried being Tigerlike and
going for it. He wound up hitting into a bunker to the left of the
green and settling for a bogey -- his first of the day -- that
dropped him into a tie with Leonard.

Then on 15, he aroused the attention of some spectators, and the
rules official who accompanied him, by swiping at a piece of debris
in front of his ball with his cap. A player cannot use any
equipment to do so on the green, but Beem escaped penalty because
he was on the fringe.

''I know the rules and I didn't think twice about it, but I knew
it would get some attention,'' he said. ''Mission accomplished. I
just wanted to give everybody something to talk about.''

Instead, they were talking for another reason. His game suddenly
turning on him, just as the gusting wind that blew across Hazeltine
National all day began to decrease, he bogeyed the par-3 17th after
his tee shot hit a tree limb and fell into a bunker.

''I thought I hit a good shot,'' he said. ''I still don't know
how that happened.''

He saved par by sinking a putt on 18, but the damage was done:
As he had bogeys on two of the last five holes, Leonard had birdies
on 15 and 16.

Now the former stereo salesman and assistant club pro -- he was
told by his pro to either pursue a PGA career or get out of the
game -- must come from behind if he's going to win his first major.

Despite sounding uncertain of his own ability to win Sunday,
Beem did so only three weeks ago in The International, holding on
for his second PGA Tour victory, even as Steve Lowery had a double
eagle, eagle and birdie on the last five holes.

''I'm not saying it's impossible (to win),'' he said. ''I'm
looking forward to seeing what it takes to win a major.''