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Bad timing for Rich Beem at Augusta

Rich Beem waited almost four years to get to the Masters. His first day lasted about 30 minutes.

Beem went through a bag of balls on the soggy practice range Monday morning when an announcement crackled over the loudspeaker that Augusta National was closing for the rest of the day, thanks to a series of downpours and the constant threat of lightning.

It was the first time in 20 years that the club did not open its gates to the public, and it meant one less day for Beem and other newcomers to prepare for Thursday's opening round.

"I wanted to get out early," Beem said. "It's frustrating, but that's how it goes."

He should have expected nothing less.

Beem always seems to have a poor sense of timing when it comes to the Masters.

His first victory was the 1999 Kemper Open - one month after Augusta National changed its rules to no longer give PGA Tour winners a free pass to the Masters.

And now that he finally qualified by winning the PGA Championship, Beem picked a bad time to lose his game.

His goal for the week?

"Make the cut," he said. "I've been playing so bad of late, it's the only thing I can do. I've been struggling. I can't deny that."

Scores don't lie.

Beem hasn't made a cut in nearly two months, a tie for 10th in the Nissan Open. The other two checks he cashed this year were at tournaments with guaranteed money - the winners-only Mercedes Championships and the Match Play Championship.

This is the guy who stared down Tiger Woods on the back nine at Hazeltine?

"It's confidence," Beem said as rain trickled through the pines. "You get on a bad roll, especially with me, and you tend to stay on them."

The good news for Beem is that streaks work both ways.

He was the hottest player in golf last August when he won the International, then two weeks later stunned Woods and everyone else at the PGA Championship. Leading by one stroke, Beem hit a 5-wood into 6 feet for eagle on the 11th hole and clinched his first major championship with a 35-foot birdie on No. 16.

It was a powerful message - for Beem that he had the game to win a major, and for everyone else that Woods can be beaten on the back nine of a major championship.

"With him breathing down my neck, I was still able to focus on what I was doing," Beem said. "More people have analyzed it than I have, but it's a nice notion that Tiger was up near the lead and I outplayed him.

"It's nice to know if I ever get in that position again, I can do that."

It was only the second time that Woods was within one stroke of the lead on the back nine at a major and failed to win. The other was at Pinehurst No. 2 in the 1999 U.S. Open, where Woods finished two strokes behind Payne Stewart.

Charles Howell III was among those who took notice.

"It goes to show anybody can win at any given time," Howell said. "Rich is obviously a good player. Anybody in this field, for the most part, can win this tournament."

Recent history would prove otherwise.

Augusta National has become Woods' domain. He will try this year to become the first player to win three consecutive Masters.

The world's No. 1 player did not show up Monday, but it was still a good day for him because of all the rain. That will make the course play even longer than its 7,290 yards, a big advantage for Woods and other big hitters.

"It will make us slug 4- and 5-iron on the range instead of 7- and 8-irons, but it also means we'll be able to stop it on the green," Beem said.

Beem got in a practice round a few weeks ago at Augusta National, the first time he has driven down Magnolia Lane and set foot on the manicured fairways.

The only other time he went to the Masters was in 1999 as a spectator, following good friend J.P. Hayes in a practice round.

"I figured that was as close as I would get to this golf course, ever," Beem said.

It has indeed been a bizarre journey for a guy who once walked away from the Dakotas Tour to sell car stereos in Seattle for $7 an hour.

Winning the PGA Championship has given Beem an exemption into the Masters for the next five years.

"I'm going to practice hard this week, see if I can't make a few birdies and stick around for the weekend," he said. "I'm looking forward to learning. The biggest thing is that until you can shoot a 65 or 66 on this course, you're going to struggle."

He is all too familiar with that game - only now, everyone is watching. He has been irked by critical stories that refer to him as a one-hit wonder.

"I'm not playing good right now, and it's easy to hammer on me," he said. "I'm in the public eye now and people know when I play bad. I'm not discounting the fact that I'm playing bad. When I do play well, I want good things written about me, and I'm going to come find you guys."

 

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