LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Doctors told Charlie Beljan he was in good enough health to leave the hospital Saturday morning, but perhaps not to play golf. With his job on the line and his name atop the leaderboard for the first time, Beljan ignored the recommendation and was glad he did.
One day after a panic attack so severe that he struggled to breathe and feared for his life, Beljan managed just fine in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Despite a pair of early bogeys, and one nervous moment when he felt his chest tighten, he had a 1-under 71 that gave him a two-shot lead going into the final round at Disney.
CHILDREN'S MIRACLE NETWORK HOSPITALS CLASSIC
The top 125 players on the PGA Tour money list at the end of the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic will secure full playing privileges for the 2013 season.
Suddenly, the 28-year-old rookie has a chance to do more than just keep his card. He's one round away from winning on the PGA Tour.
"I honestly didn't think I was going to get through it," Beljan said. "I just stayed strong."
He stayed overnight in the hospital -- with his shoes on for most of the night -- and only got about an hour of sleep. This is the final PGA Tour event of the year, and Beljan is at No. 139 on the money list. Only the top 125 keep their cards, and Beljan likely would need to finish around 10th.
Beljan said he started to feel some of the same symptoms from Friday as he approached the turn. He ate a sandwich, tried to calm himself, and back-to-back birdies to start the back nine certainly helped. He closed with six straight pars to reach 13-under 203.
That gave him a two-shot lead over Brian Gay (67), Josh Teater (67) and Charlie Wi, who was tied with Beljan until two sloppy bogeys at the end for a 70.
"It's nice to be able to walk around and smile," Beljan said. "Yesterday, I was hanging on for my life."
When last seen at Disney, Beljan was gasping to draw a big breath and sitting in the fairway to wait his turn to hit. Paramedics followed him around the back nine after a spike in his blood pressure. After signing for a 64, Beljan emerged from the scoring room strapped into a stretcher and was loaded into an ambulance.
For most of the night, he felt 99 percent sure he wouldn't be playing.
But with the comfort of knowing that he was physically fine, he went back to his hotel for a shower, breakfast and headed to the golf course. Despite being nervous that another episode could strike again, he was steady for so much of the day.
Now comes the hard work.
Beljan's wife, 7-week-old son and mother-in-law were flying in from Phoenix for the final round. He has long dreamed of how cool it would be to have his family come onto the green to celebrate his first PGA Tour win.
But there's a long way to go.
Beljan had a three-shot lead -- he wasn't aware of this until late Friday night in the hospital -- going into the third round, and that was gone before he stepped onto the fourth tee. Sunday will get under way with 11 players separated by three shots.
That included Sea Island winner Tommy Gainey and Camilo Villegas, winless in four years, along with Robert Garrigus, who won at Disney two years ago. The group at 205 included Vaughn Taylor, who like Beljan is making a last-ditch effort to keep his card.
Beljan was simply thrilled to be playing.
"They released me this morning ... saying that they thought I was good enough maybe not to go play golf, but at least to leave the hospital," he said before his round. "I'm making the decision to come out here and play. Who knows if we'll last two holes?"
He made it all the way around, though the golf was shaky at the start.
Beljan showed off his power on the opening hole when he was behind a tree 183 yards from the hole. He hit a pitching wedge straight up and over the tree, with enough on it to reach the green. He three-putted from 50 feet, however, and then dropped another shot on the par-3 third with a three-putt from about 25 feet on the fringe.
His only other bogey came from a bunker on the 12th.
Several players made a run at him -- Wi, Gainey among them -- and Charles Howell III was right in the mix. Howell was one shot out of the lead until driving into the water on the 17th to make triple bogey, and then making bogey on the last hole to finish five shots behind.
About the only stress Beljan showed was on the 17th, screaming at his ball to "Go!" as it flirted with the water, and it barely got over. He walked slowly, trying to manage his nerves and his anxiety, at times lingering some 40 yards behind the other players in his group.
Beljan said a variety of blood work and other test showed nothing wrong with him. He figures the problem is between the ears and jokingly said, "I need help." This all started about three months ago when he fainted on a flight home from the Reno-Tahoe Open as he was going to the bathroom. Since then, Beljan said he has had a half-dozen panic attacks, usually in controlled environments when he can settle himself down.
This one came on a golf course, and it spiraled out of control on Friday.
It worked out for him Saturday, and he now has only five hours and 18 holes of golf in front of him, along with nearly a dozen guys trying to catch him.