- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

After playing the first six holes in 1 over Saturday, Cameron Beckman couldn’t afford to miss his five-footer for par at the seventh.

He had just missed a putt of similar length at the difficult par-4 sixth, failing to get up and down from left of the green. A second consecutive bogey would have dropped him to 4 under for the tournament and all but ended his chances of making a run.

Fortunately for Beckman, the putt found the bottom of the cup.

“That was big,” he said. “It was a tough one - hard slider to the right - and I kept my round going.”

From there, Beckman took off. He made a 20-foot putt for birdie on the ninth, recorded consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes and chipped in for eagle on the par-5 16th to give him a spot in the second-to-last group Sunday. Beckman’s round of 66 put him at 9 under for the tournament, one off the lead shared by defending champion Anthony Kim and host Tiger Woods.

Coming into this week, there wasn’t much to suggest that Beckman would play well. He had a missed cut and a tie for 72nd in two previous visits to Congressional, and he has made it to the weekend in just one of his past four starts this year.

But some extra practice after falling one stroke short of the 36-hole cut in the U.S. Open two weeks ago has made a big difference.

“I spent last week working really hard on my swing,” he said. “I’m hitting a fade off the tee again, and I’m hitting a lot of fairways. The stuff I’m working on has straightened me out a little bit.”

Through the first three rounds, Beckman is finding about 14 percent more fairways and 12 percent more greens than he averaged in his first 15 events. Accuracy has been a problem all year - he is worse than 140th in both categories, placing him in the bottom third of qualifying golfers. Meanwhile, he is in the top 25 in fairways and greens hit this week.

More impressive has been his putting. Beckman has taken 81 putts so far, tied for the fourth-fewest. His flatstick helped bail him out Saturday especially; Beckman made eight of nine putts from four feet or longer. Five of those were for par, including a testy seven-footer on the par-3 13th.

Of course, it always helps to chip in from the rough like Beckman did on 16 and not need use the putter at all.

“I was trying to lay it in a certain spot, trying to get it to feed in,” Beckman said. “I threw it a little farther than I wanted to, and it kind of sat down nice and went right in.”

Historically, Beckman tends to play his best golf in the fall. Seven of his eight career top-five finishes on the PGA Tour have been in September or later, with his two victories coming in late October and early November.

Though it might be a surprise to see Beckman among the leaders this early in the year, don’t expect him to crumble under the Sunday pressure of being among the leaders. He has been to PGA Tour qualifying school 10 times and fared well, recording three top-10s with even more at stake.

“There’s nothing like trying to get your Tour card,” Beckman said, “because either you do it or you don’t have a job.”

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