When rookie Rich Beem made bogey at the sixth hole and double bogey at the seventh Friday afternoon, his caddie, Steve Duplantis, tried to get inside his man's head as they walked to the eighth tee. "I told him a lot of guys make double out here," he said. "But the good ones usually come back with birdie. I wanted to put some heat on him."
Beem learned that lesson well Friday, making birdie on his next hole, and it clearly had a carry-over effect yesterday in the third round of the Kemper Open at TPC at Avenel. After disasters early on the front side and a double bogey at No. 12, Beem stopped the skids, and when play had ended, he had a piece of first place for the third straight day after making a six-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole.
That stroke on an afternoon when he squandered a number of birdie opportunities was accompanied by a spirited fist pump and a huge roar from the largest gallery Beem said he has ever seen. He finished even-par 71, and the birdie lifted him into a tie for the lead with tour journeyman Tommy Armour III (68), the grandson of the "Silver Scot" 1927 U.S. Open champion. The two are at 9-under 204, with a two-shot lead over two-time Kemper winner Bill Glasson (69 -- 206).
Eight players are within five shots of the lead, including Texan Emlyn Aubrey, who was threatening the course record of 63 until he bogeyed his last two holes, settling for 66 -- 207 and fourth place. Defending champion Stuart Appleby (69) was in a group of three at 209, and '97 winner Justin Leonard (66), who came from five behind to prevail that year, was in a group of eight at 3-under 210 along with Corey Pavin (71).
"I think someone is going to break out and shoot 64 [Sunday]," Glasson said. "I was hoping it would be me today."
On a warm day of gentle breezes and mounting pressure on Beem, who is attempting to become the seventh player to make the Kemper his first tour victory, the new darling of a typical weekend crowd here (40,000) had two bogeys in his first three holes. Then he rallied, just as his caddie predicted before the start of play: "He has a great heart and just keeps coming back."
This time, Beem ran off three straight birdies (a six-foot eagle putt at No. 6 hit a spike mark and never had a chance) to get to 10 under through six holes. When he knocked in a 10-foot putt at the 374-yard 11th, he was 11 under with a three-shot lead on Armour, who was playing just ahead.
Beem self-destructed at the 472-yard 12th, voted the fifth-hardest hole on the tour last year, when his second shot fell a few feet short of greatness and kicked off a stream bank into the water. He took a drop and chipped his fourth shot past the cup, then missed the five-footer for his second double bogey of the tournament.
He missed an eight-footer at the relatively easy 524-yard 13th, settling for a disappointing par that left him in a tie with Armour, who had birdied the hole just a few minutes before. Then came a disheartening pull of a three-footer for birdie at 14 that never even got a piece of the cup.
Beem was out of the lead momentarily when he went rough-rough-fringe and two-putted from there for another bogey that dropped him to 8 under. His tee shot at the 195-yard 17th missed bouncing in for a hole-in-one by a foot, but he again was off-line on an eight-footer for birdie. It was one of five birdie putts of 12 feet or less that he missed, and Beem trailed Armour by a shot when he stepped on to the 18th tee.
His drive split the middle of the fairway, and his 8-iron from 160 yards left him with a six-footer. This time the ball found the bottom of the cup, and Beem couldn't help but pat himself on the back after such a rousing and confidence-building finish.
"That was one of the tougher rounds that I've had in a long time," said Beem, who had never played in a Nike or PGA Tour event until this season. "It took a lot of guts for me to go out there and hang in there like I did and actually got it going there for awhile. I'm real proud of the way I performed today and really looking forward to tomorrow. It's going to be another fun day."
This was also a day of distractions for Beem, a man with $24,000 in '99 earnings who had missed the cut in his last five events but will contend for a $450,000 champion's check today. He heard cell phones, supposedly banned from the course, go off four or five times during his round, and he should know. He used to sell them, and said he could actually identify the rings of different manufacturers.
"That got to be a little annoying," he said. "There were just thoughts going through my head as far as the distractions, but I got through them. Like Steve said, the heart of a champion is when you have those bad mistakes and you come back with birdie. You hang in there. That showed a lot, and I'm really proud of the way I did it today."
Once again, Beem praised his caddie for keeping him focused throughout his round. Duplantis was a longtime employee of Jim Furyk until he was let go a month ago, reportedly for repeated tardiness. What is not generally known is that he also is a single father who takes his 3-year-old daughter, Sierra, on the road when he is working.
He and Beem got to know each other over the course of the season, and in New Orleans last month Duplantis told him to give him a call if he ever was looking for a looper. Beem called a week ago Thursday, and while Duplantis thought it was only a week-long temp job, Beem said yesterday he would like to have him on his bag for as long as he would like to stay.
It seems to be working out quite nicely for both men. When Beem was walking down the 18th fairway, Duplantis said he told his player, "We've been working hard all day, working hard all week. We deserve this [putt]. Knock it in."
"Honestly. I expect him to win it," Duplantis said. "No doubt I expect him to be nervous. I'm going to be nervous, and I've been in this situation before. I still expect him to win. We'll do it together."
CAPTION: Rich Beem has good reason to celebrate his birdie putt on 18: The six-footer left him with at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds.
CAPTION: When he is done adding, Tommy Armour III finds he has shot a third straight 68 to stand at 9-under 204.