- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

CHASKA, Minn. The three blind mice provided an unforgettable spectacle at the 84th PGA Championship.
Rich Beem had no idea where he was. Tiger Woods had no idea what he was up against. And Justin Leonard had no idea where his ball was going. It's difficult to choose which one of those developments qualifies as the most shocking, but watching the trio navigate through Hazeltine's maze made the PGA Championship the season's best major for the third consecutive year.
Let's start, as usual, with Woods, who was blindsided by a competitor for the first time at a major championship. Until Sunday at Hazeltine, Woods had never finished second in a major. And since the 1999 U.S. Open, he had won every major in which he had been in the back-nine mix. Why? Because along with his mammoth talents, Tiger also has exhibited a thorough understanding of his opponents.
At least he had until he ran into Rich Beem. Tiger's mindset this season has been obvious. He is keenly aware of his ability to intimidate other players, and he's fashioned his major strategy accordingly. Play reasonably conservative golf, get his name up on the leader board and watch everyone else implode in terror. In fact, he has become so accustomed to this ploy working that he actually made a Freudian verbal gaffe when describing how he felt when making the turn one behind Beem and tied with Leonard.
"I knew if I played the back nine in 2- or 3-under par, I probably would win the tournament," Woods said.
No, Tiger. You thought that and for good reason. But you didn't know it.
When Beem didn't fall to pieces, instead skipping further under par, Tiger was shocked. He says Beem's eagle at No.11 didn't phase him but don't believe it. His three-putt bogey at No.13, which dropped him four strokes behind Beem, occurred just moments after Beem's eagle was posted on the leader board. Just listen to how he described hearing Beem's eagle from one pairing ahead.
"There was a huge roar when his approach shot landed," Woods said. "I didn't think Justin would have the length, even downwind, to get there, so it would have had to have been Rich. And then there was another huge roar, so we assumed it was an eagle. Walking up to the green, that was confirmed."
Tiger might not have been intimidated, but he certainly was affected enough to remember the moment distinctly. He was affected enough to miss his first meaningful 4-footer at a major since 1999, when he jerked a huge putt on the 71st hole at Pinehurst. And he was affected enough to smother-hook a drive on No.14. Now he knows what the other guys feel like when he's prompting Sunday roars.
Woods, of course, rebounded to birdie Hazeltine's final four holes, forcing Beem to earn his title under pressure. But had he known more about Beem's constitution, he might well have been more aggressive from the start and less startled by Beem's aggression.
As for Leonard, his image is completely shot. How big a choke job was the supposedly sturdy Texan's final-round 77? Well, take away Woods and we would have had the 1996 Masters all over again. Greg Norman lost seven strokes to Nick Faldo in 11 holes; Leonard lost nine strokes to Beem in 12 holes. Interestingly, however, the gambler was crushed by the stoic grinder at the 1996 Masters, while the exact opposite happened at Hazeltine.
If Woods hadn't been in the picture to shift the public's focus, can you imagine the savage abuse Leonard would have absorbed from the media yesterday morning? Such a beating might have completely crippled his career. As it is, he still lost perhaps his most valuable commodity his reputation as a steady, unflappable grinder. What does he have left other than a short ball and a swing that's so ugly it would make Ray Charles wince?
"I stunk," said Leonard, who went on to address the issue of how long it would take him to recover. "I don't know. The getting-over-it part is old, two minutes old. Ask me in another couple of weeks."
And then there was Beem, who apparently really didn't realize that he was playing in the final round of a major championship. Beem played a near-flawless round of golf in becoming the first man to stare down Tiger in a Slam. He hits the ball exceptionally long and might be the best putter in the game when he's wielding his best stroke. But don't expect him to be a consistent force in the game.
For one thing, he sneaked up on everyone at Hazeltine. From now on, he'll have the burden of expectation that comes with past success. And despite his obvious talents, Beem has some issues.
But primarily, we don't see Beem joining the true elite because he's a cowboy. He says he's committed to the game. He's beyond the frustration that led him to quit the game entirely seven years ago and take up hawking cell phones and stereos. He's beyond the wild ways that led to his arrest for a DUI at Carnoustie in 1999 and a lifestyle that was hardly conducive to successful golf. Quite simply, he says he's not the same person he was when he won the 1999 Kemper Open.
"It seems like an eternity ago, just because I've matured so much more outside of golf than anything else," said Beem, who credits Sara, his wife of nine months, with much of that maturation. "She grounds me on days when I need to be grounded and lets me be a free spirit on days when that's OK."
That sounds great. And we'd like to think Beem would be a regular major contender because he's got guts, game and personality. But Beem's still a cowboy at heart. He's a throwback pro. Two of his three best chums in the game are John Daly and Fuzzy Zoeller. That couldn't be more fitting, because all three like to drink, gamble and crack jokes. All three play a wide-open style of golf, haven't seen the inside of a gym since elementary school and would rather rip each other than range balls. But Zoeller and Daly have something else in common they really contended in only two majors each, won both of them and spent most of their careers being more popular than they were successful.
Well, Beem would seem like a perfect fit for that group. So don't think golf has discovered some great new champion to tangle with Tiger. It's only found an ordinary PGA champion who was extraordinary at Hazeltine.

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