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Rich Beem
Even when a putt or two stayed out, Rich Beem stayed cool and upbeat. (Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

'Forgotten man' Beem hangs tough with superstar playing partners

Thanks in part to several trips to Hazeltine over the years, Rich Beem feels right at home playing with Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington. And after his solid start, he believes he can win here yet again.

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer

CHASKA, Minn. -- Understandably, Rich Beem was the forgotten man in Thursday morning’s supergroup as he teed it up alongside multiple major winners Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington.

However, Beem shouldn’t have been overlooked. He’s done something neither Woods nor Harrington has yet -- earned a major win here at Hazeltine.

Beem’s 2002 victory in the last PGA Championship contested at Hazeltine seems like eons ago. In a lot of ways it was. Since then, Beem hasn’t exactly set the golf world ablaze. It was his last PGA Tour victory and one of just 10 top 10s.

Coming back to Minnesota, however, must have stirred up some great memories for the former cell phone salesman and son of a PGA Professional, because Beem shot an equal-part respectable, and impressive, 1-under 71 in the first round that had him four shots behind Woods, the leader at 5 under, and three behind Harrington, the defending PGA Champion, at 4 under.

“Just a couple of guys just having a nice quiet 3-ball day out there,” Beem said about his threesome tongue-in-cheek. “Of course about 30,000 people screaming their heads off. It was a blast.”

Beem has visited Hazeltine on a number of occasions since his win in 2002, making friends with members and even hosting many of them back home in Texas for friendly matches.

Because of that, Beem felt at home on Thursday. He didn’t get rattled after a bogey on the 10th hole -- his first of the day. Instead, he remained patient and rattled off three straight birdies to close out his front nine and made the turn at 2 under.

Beem’s only big mistake in the first round was a double bogey on the 633-yard, par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day.

“I was trying to get it on the green somehow,” Beem explained about the third-hole blunder. “It was a horrible lie. Downhill slope over a bunker. I really didn't have any idea -- I thought it was going to come out maybe squirting a little bit right. But it came out squirting less than that. And that's not good.”

Even though the double bogey knocked Beem back to even par for the day, he managed to maintain his composure and picked up one more birdie before settling on a 1-over 37 on his back nine and the 71.

“I played fantastic,” said Beem, and the stats showed it. He hit 11 of 14 fairways, 12 of 18 greens and scrambled with the best of them. “I'm not 100 percent comfortable with the putter, but I managed to roll in a couple of putts that spurred me on a little bit. I drove the ball great. This golf course off the tee just sets up so good for me. I just love it. The last time I played here, it's just fantastic for me. It's just a fun golf course for me to play. One of those courses you like to play.”

The big question is: Can the 38-year-old Beem -- the guy who hasn’t cracked the top 10 in any of the 23 majors he’s played since that 2002 victory -- actually win this week?

“Absolutely,” he said. “I love to golf. I really enjoy playing this golf course. It's a lot of fun. Playing those two guys is certainly ... you know they're going to play well. So usually when guys play well around you, they kind of drag you with them.”

But can they drag Beem to another 72nd-hole Hula dance at Hazeltine?

We’ll have to wait until Sunday evening to find out.

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