Beem Tames Tiger, Wins PGA

Ricky Berens of the United States dives into the pool wearing a bodysuit that split just before starting his leg in a Men's 4x100M Relay, at the FINA Swimming World Championships in Rome, Sunday, July 26, 2009. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Of all the remarkable things Tiger Woods has accomplished on a golf course, this was the first time he charged from behind Arnold Palmer-style on the final day of a major.

He's also never done this before in a major: He blinked.

Despite a dramatic four-birdies-in-four holes rally Sunday in the PGA Championship, one that might have been remembered as one of the greatest finishes ever in a major, Tiger Woods went toe-to-toe, shot-for-shot — and lost.

Not to Sergio. Or Phil Mickelson, Or Ernie Els. To Rich Beem — yes, the fun-loving, fast-talking, invisible-to-most Rich Beem — a man who seven years ago wasn't playing golf, a man who less than 24 hours before openly questioned if he had the stuff to win.

Remarkably, he did.

It wasn't because Woods wasn't good enough; Woods shot a 5-under 67 that tied Tom Watson for the low round of the day. It's because, believe it or not, Beem was better.

Better than the world's best golfer, better than Beem was in winning The International a couple of weeks ago, better than even Beem knew he could be.

"I had no expectations of playing this good," Beem said after holding off Woods' frantic rally to win by one shot, becoming the most improbable PGA winner since John Daly in 1991. "I know I could, but not under the pressure and the scrutiny. I was nervous, but I found a way to control my nerves."

More importantly, the former cell phone salesman found a way to control Woods, who was trying to go 3-for-4 in majors this year and win his ninth major overall, all while leading on the final day.

This time, Woods was in the unaccustomed role of trailing by five shots going into the final round. But that big margin didn't last long and neither did third-round leader Justin Leonard, whose double bogey on No. 8 led to a 77 that dropped him into the fourth-place tie.

After playing conservatively on a wind-swept Saturday and settling for an even-par 72, Woods came out charging, holing a pitch shot to save par on No. 1. Birdies followed on No. 4, 6 and 7 on a Hazeltine National Golf Club course that played much easier without Saturday's wicked winds.

Then came a remarkable flop shot on 8 from along the grandstand, with Woods deftly dropping the ball onto the edge of the green so it could roll within a foot of the cup.

But every time Woods threw up a birdie, and his fist in celebration, Beem answered.

Playing in the final twosome just behind Woods, Beem birdied No. 3 and 7. Contending in a major for the first time and uncertain how he would respond to it — he takes a swig of stomach medicine before every round to calm himself — Beem didn't get distracted.

"Honestly, I was too concerned with myself than I was about Tiger," Beem said.

For good reason. Beem was only 73rd in the world rankings, the lowest of any major winner in the last five years except 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie.

"I don't want to sound pompous, but I was trying to control what I was doing and not control what he was doing," said Beem, who led Woods by two shots as the round started and never trailed. "I didn't know if I had what it took to win it. Obviously, I found out today that I do."

He may have found out on No. 11.

Beem hit a 5-wood to within 6 feet on the par-5 and sank the putt for an eagle, moving him from 8 under to 10 under and pushing his lead over Woods from one shot to three.

Coincidence or not, Woods promptly bogeyed No. 13 and 14 in succession, as many bogeys as he had in his previous 48 holes. Suddenly, he was down by five, as Beem also birdied 13.

Still, Woods knew he wasn't out of it.

"I was on 15 and, walking down the fairway, I told Steve (Williams, his caddy), `If we birdie in, we'll win the tournament,"' Woods said.

From then on, Tiger was Tiger — birdies on 15, 16, 17 and 18.

"I didn't miss a shot coming in," he said.

Beem bogeyed No. 14 but got the shot back with a birdie on 16. He knew on 18 that he could three-putt and still win, and that's exactly what he did.The man who once floundered on the small-time Dakotas Tour had won a big one, the 12th time in 15 years the winner has made the PGA his first major victory.

"Sometimes it might be a benefit to be a little naive in a situation because you've never been there before in a major championship," Woods said. "I gave it everything I had, that's the way I play each and every time ... but he sucked it up and got the job done."

Among the first to congratulate Beem was John Daly, who called him on a post-tournament talk show on the Golf Channel.

"I think this win is similar to John's win in that he just went out and freewheeled it and he had nothing to lose, like I felt," said the 31-year-old Beem, who shot a 4-under 68 Sunday.

Then again, maybe he was destined to win the Wanamaker Trophy and the $990,000 first prize. His father, New Mexico State golf coach Larry Beem, recalls that his son was born on the final day of the 1970 PGA.

Now, Woods must wait until April to try again for another Grand Slam and to move closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors.

This was Woods' first runner-up finish in a major, and he's not interested in a second.

"Any time you can win one major in a year, it's going to be a successful year," Woods said. "Right now, I'm a little frustrated, but I'm also pretty jacked up at the way I played."

It might not have been until Sunday that Beem, playing in only his fourth major, knew how well he could play. He won the 1999 Kemper Open but struggled the following year, placing 146th on the money list, and barely kept his PGA Tour card for this year.

"I'm elated beyond belief," he said.
  • Dan Collins

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