Beem is trying to regain form that landed him the PGA title

After breakthrough season in '02, he's been in slump


The Masters

April 10, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Nobody has asked Rich Beem this week about his chances of winning the 67th Masters or, for that matter, about winning his second straight major championship.

A Beemer Slam?

"I can still win the next three in a row and be just like Tiger [Woods]," Beem, the reigning PGA champion, said with a laugh yesterday outside the clubhouse. "I've actually thought about that. That's one of those big-time dreams you have."

The reality is this: Going into his first Masters, Beem hasn't followed up on his breakthrough season last year, when he earned nearly $3 million and finished seventh on the PGA Tour money list.

Beem, 32, has reverted to his spotty past form, missing the cut in six of the nine tournaments he has entered this year. It was the kind of record he took into the TPC at Avenel back in 1999, when he made the Kemper Open his first tour victory.

"I've been struggling so bad of late, I'm just hoping to stick around for the weekend," Beem said. "Part of it's probably traveling a little too much, trying to play too much. I probably should slow down."

Beem still has the same mind-set that he did when he left his job as an assistant pro at a country club in El Paso, Texas - this after selling cell phones in Seattle - to play the tour. Beem has a difficult time turning down a chance to play.

"Ever since Day 1 on tour, it's been play about 30, 32 events a year," said Beem. "Now I have the luxury of not doing that, but I wouldn't know what to do with my time if I wasn't out here. I haven't taken enough time to smell the roses."

This will mark the first time that Beem will get a chance to smell the dogwoods and azaleas of Augusta National. It might have happened sooner, but the rule that gave all tour winners an exemption here was changed shortly before Beem won at Avenel.

Beem didn't like the rule change then, and he still doesn't despite having an exemption for the next five years.

"I think you're adding only a handful, maybe 10 players at most," Beem said. "This place is so special. I don't think it hurt the quality of the field whatsoever. I'm hoping they rescind it. I'd love to see it happen."

Beem isn't out to prove he belongs.

"I don't need that for any added incentive," he said. "This golf course, if you hit a few feet off here or there all week long, it can make you look silly."

They're back

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer weren't supposed to play this week because of a rule put in after last year's Masters stating that former champions had to enter at least 10 other events to stay eligible.

But Masters chairman Hootie Johnson, realizing that the rule eliminated six-time champion Nicklaus, quickly had it rescinded. He also has changed the rule that would have prevented former champions past the age of 65 to play.

"I guess you might say I overfixed our problem," Johnson said during his news conference yesterday. "And we did have a problem. The tournament had a problem."

After receiving letters from Nicklaus and Palmer, Johnson told them that his change of heart came from reflecting on what the tournament's founders, former Augusta National chairman Clifford Roberts and golf legend Bobby Jones, might think.

"Their belief about the lifetime exemption was for a champion who believed that he would be competitive and would play 36 holes to try to make the cut," Johnson said.

Palmer, 73, had an emotional farewell last year, but then realized that this year's Masters would be his 49th, leaving him one short of a career goal. Nicklaus decided to come back when the condition of his back improved with the help of 20 fewer pounds.

Asked if he had reconsidered his decision after playing yesterday, Palmer said, "It is very hard, but I'm going to tee it up tomorrow because I said I would. I've made mistakes before."

Nicklaus has often said that he'd stop playing in major championships if he didn't think he could compete. The last time he was in contention at a major was here in 1998, when he finished tied for sixth. Last year marked the first time Nicklaus didn't play in a major.

"Basically, I wasn't sure I had a golf game," said Nicklaus, 63. "I'm still not too sure. My main concern was that I could hit the ball far enough. I came down three different occasions and played the golf course in the last month. And I hit the ball plenty far enough to play the course."

Other than Woods, Nicklaus and Nick Faldo are the only other two players in history to have won back-to-back Masters. While Faldo has reportedly said that he doesn't want to see two-time defending champion Woods break the record, Nicklaus was a little more diplomatic.

"I always feel like records are made to be broken," he said. "If a man is good enough to win it three times in a row, more power to him."

Win-lose situation

Since the Par-3 tournament winner has never gone on to win the Masters in the same year, former PGA champion David Toms and Padraig Harrington of Ireland saw their chances diminish greatly yesterday.

Toms and Harrington were declared the co-champions of the event when potential play was washed out.

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