Beem rings true as PGA champ

Ex-cell phone salesman withstands Woods' charge to roam as major victor

`Didn't know if I had what it took'

Close of 4 straight birdies leaves Woods shot short

Funk, Leonard tie for 4th

August 19, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHASKA, Minn. - Cell phone salesmen and country club assistant pros take heart.

You too might win the PGA Championship someday, as Rich Beem did here yesterday at Hazeltine National Golf Club.

While the career path he took to his third PGA Tour victory and first major championship might be a little unusual, the way the 31-year-old Beem won has been done many times in this tournament's 84-year history.

He simply outplayed the competition.

By shooting a 4-under-par 68 for a four-round total of 10-under 278, Beem came from three shots behind fading third-round leader Justin Leonard to build as much as a five-stroke lead before holding off a fast-charging Tiger Woods by one.

Former Maryland golf coach Fred Funk hung in there until a couple of bogeys on the back nine ended his best performance ever in a major. Funk finished tied for fourth with Leonard at 4-under par, one stroke behind little-known pro Chris Riley.

When he tapped in for bogey on the final hole, Beem raised his arms in victory and did a little boogie on the green. He then called his wife, Sara, onto the green, gave her a hug and then ran over and kissed the Wanamaker Trophy given to the champion of the year's last major.

"I never expected this by any stretch of the imagination," Beem told the crowd at the trophy presentation ceremony a few minutes later.

Though his startling performance followed his second PGA Tour victory by only two weeks, Beem had said throughout the week that winning tournaments such as The International and the Kemper Open, as he did in 1999, couldn't be used as a launching pad to one of golf's most venerated titles.

But they were.

He played with the aggressive and carefree style reminiscent of John Daly's win in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, shooting for flags early to charge into the lead and not folding in the wake of Woods making four straight birdies at the finish.

Three birdies on the first seven holes helped Beem catch Leonard and, after taking the lead when Leonard double-bogeyed the par-3 eighth hole, Beem built his lead to three strokes when he eagled the par-5 11th hole from 5 feet. He eventually led Riley by five and Woods by six when he birdied the par-3 13th.

Still leading by three going into the par-4 16th hole - the most treacherous on the course - Beem hit a 7-wood into the fairway and a 9-iron approach on the green. He then gave himself some breathing room when he made birdie from 35 feet just before Woods was ready to putt at 17.

Beem tossed the ball into Lake Hazeltine that adjoins the 16th green.

The stress that he felt before the round was gone and victory seemed imminent.

"I said on Saturday that if I had the lead by a couple [going into 16], I might puke, but actually I was probably as committed to that shot than I've been to any shot I ever hit," Beem said of his tee shot at 16. "What can I say about the putt? It was unbelievable."

So was the late charge by Woods. Looking to become the first player in history to win three majors in the same season twice, the two-time PGA champion seemed to have given up when he three-putted from 15 feet for bogey on the par-3 13th and then followed with another bogey on the par-4 14th.

That was before he made one of his patented birdie runs. Starting with a 10-footer on the par-5 15th, Woods hit the ball closer to the flag on each succeeding hole, finishing with a 4-footer and one last fist pump on the par-4 18th in a round of 5-under 67.

"We were walking down the fairway [on 15], I told Stevie [Williams, his caddie], `If we birdie in, we'll win the tournament, let's just suck it up and get it done,' " Woods recalled. "You've got to birdie every hole. Take it one shot at a time. That's exactly what I did. I didn't miss a shot coming in."

It wasn't enough. While Woods was nearly as exciting in defeat over those last four holes as he has ever been in any of his eight major championships and 33 PGA Tour titles, it marked the first time in his career that he finished second in a major.

Woods was also gracious in defeat, congratulating Beem after the round both in person and in public.

"He was cordial, as he always is," said Beem. "I was giggling so hard you can't even believe it. It was great. I mean, Tiger Woods is going to go down as, I think, the greatest player of all time and it was really cool."

Said Woods: "He just went out there and played great today. Shot 4-under. That's awfully impressive, to go out and shoot a round like that when he absolutely has to do that. Sometimes it might be a benefit to be a little naive in a situation because you've never been there before."

This was only Beem's fourth appearance in a major, and his first this year.

He had missed the cut in the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie after being charged with drunken driving a few days before the tournament began, finished tied for 70th later that summer in the PGA Championship at Medinah, and missed the cut in the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills.

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