Beem milks drama to max

Yo-yo 71 ties Armour for Kemper lead at 204

May 30, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

POTOMAC -- The most significant logo on Rich Beem's golf bag is "Odyssey." It is for the putter he uses and, perhaps, for the road this 28-year-old rookie has traveled from obscurity to the spotlight here in the $2.5 million Kemper Open. It could also describe what happened to him in yesterday's third round at Avenel.

Beem recovered from a shaky start that saw his lead cut to one shot after two bogeys on the first three holes. He made three straight birdies and a fourth on the par-4 10th to build his lead back to three and his score to 11-under. He then relinquished the lead with a double bogey on the par-4 12th and a bogey on the par-4 15th.

But his first round on national television ended with a six-foot birdie putt and a pump of the right fist, concluding a wild ride that somehow produced an even-par 71 on his scorecard and a share of the lead.

At 9-under-par 204, Beem is tied with Tommy Armour III and two shots ahead of two-time champion Bill Glasson.

Four years after quitting the game to sell car stereos and cell phones to placate his former fiance, three years after taking a job as an assistant pro at a country club in El Paso, Texas, and one week after missing his fifth straight cut, Beem is trying to become the seventh player to make this event his first PGA Tour victory.

"I'm going out there tomorrow with one scenario -- that's winning," Beem said. "I've got nothing to lose. Only good things can happen when you stay aggressive."

Unlike Armour, whose more conservative approach resulted in his third straight 3-under-par 68, Beem goes for everything. The birdie on the par-5 sixth hole was nearly an eagle after Beem put a 4-iron to within six feet of the cup. The double bogey came after he put his approach in a creek, then tried to hole out after taking a drop.

Armour, trying for his first win since the 1990 Phoenix Open and only the second of his 18-year career, won't change his style heading into today's final round. Nor will he concern himself with Beem or the fact the crowd will likely be pulling for Beem to finish off what would be the unlikeliest of wire-to-wire victories.

"I'm not worried about him. I'm going to play the golf course tomorrow," said Armour, 39, the grandson of the legendary "Silver Scot," winner of the 1927 U.S. Open, the 1930 PGA Championship and the 1931 British Open.

Said Beem: "I hope I'm not going to pay attention to Tommy. I can only control what I do."

After getting to 11-under par after an eight-foot putt on the 10th hole, Beem said he became distracted by, of all things, the constant ringing of cell phones on the course. Given his background, he can tell different companies by the rings of their phones.

"A couple of Motorolas," he said. "And a couple of then were Nokias, because they have different chimes that kind of play different tunes."

You know what kind of endorsement contract could be headed Beem's way should he win, not to mention a $450,000 check for a player who has made less than $25,000 as a rookie. Beem would become the second rookie to win in less than a month, following Carlos Franco of Paraguay at the Entergy Classic in New Orleans.

To find a more improbable champion at a PGA Tour event in recent history takes a little research. There was Fred Wadsworth, who as a Monday qualifier won the old Southern Open in 1986. Two years later, Jim Benepe won the Western Open after getting in on a sponsor's exemption.

The rounds Beem has played the past two days, which have included 13 birdies, four bogeys and two double bogeys, were not surprising to his father, Larry. The elder Beem, a former golf pro who is now the coach at New Mexico State, watched his son's television debut on a 50-inch, big-screen set at his home in Las Cruces.

"This is the way he plays," Larry Beem said by telephone shortly after his son's double bogey. "Lots of birdies. Lots of bogeys. But when he gets going, he can really light it up."

Said the younger Beem: "I'm usually all over the place."

It is in stark contrast to Armour, who made four birdies and only one bogey yesterday. After struggling for most of his first eight years and then after his only tour victory, Armour has become a good mid-level player the past three years. He finished 52nd on the money list last year with a career-high $554,650 and should eclipse that today, having come in at 42nd with $483,778.

Armour has come close to winning this year, losing in a playoff to Gabriel Hjertstedt of Sweden in the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open and then tying for third the next week at Doral. After withdrawing from the BellSouth Classic with a sore shoulder in early April, he took six weeks off.

Asked about his sudden success as he approaches 40, Armour said, "I think I'm just a better player day in and day out. I play a lot more percentage shots "

It means he plays a game with which Beem is unfamiliar.

"Never a dull moment," said Larry Beem. "I'm going to be sweating him home."

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