Rich Beem finished third last week to qualify for the playoffs.
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

(AP) — Rich Beem, as much as anyone, knows how quickly fortunes can change in golf.

This is the guy who went from selling car stereos in Seattle for $7 an hour to rolling in a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole at Hazeltine to beat Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship. That was over the course of seven years.

His most recent reversal happened over two days.

Beem had yet to crack the top 20 all season. He was at No. 166 in the FedEx Cup standings. Equally dire was his standing in the Wyndham Championship, where he was even par on the 15th hole of the second round, three shots below the cut line. Four more holes and he was out of golf for the next four weeks.

"And now we're talking about a chance to win the FedEx Cup," he said. "It's amazing how it can turn around."

Beem made eagle on the 15th, birdie on the 16th, finished with two pars and made the cut on the number. He followed that with rounds of 63-63 — both times tying his career-low round — to finish alone in third and breathe some life into his season.

"Crazy game," he said.

Such is the nature of the PGA Tour Playoffs, which starts Thursday at The Barclays.

Beem made the biggest move in the final regular-season tournament, going from No. 166 to No. 114 in the FedEx Cup standings. He was 21,562 points behind Woods last week, and now starts the playoffs only 6,730 out of the lead.

Better yet, Woods isn't even playing.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen also made a late push, with birdies on four of his last seven holes and getting up-and-down for par from 60 feet away in a bunker on the 18th to grab the 144th spot by a mere 20 points. Justin Bolli, Martin Laird and J.J. Henry also qualified.

Beem, however, is the poster boy for the tour's version of a postseason.

He was the example of how the playoffs offered so little hope for so many last year. Beem was No. 134 when the playoffs began, and his tie for seventh at The Barclays got him thinking Cinderella until he checked the standings and realized that midnight came awfully early for those who started so far down the list.

Beem was one of only two players who climbed into the top 120 to reach the second round at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where he had to finish no worse than second to keep going.

Of those 120, only two cracked the top 70 to reach the BMW Championship for the third event. And of those 70, only three advanced to the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. Only four players had a realistic chance of winning the $10 million prize.

With some major changes, the playoffs this year could be wide open — and that doesn't even account for Woods' absence.

Here's the simple math:

— The reset of points have bunched the 144 players closer together. A year ago, the gap between No. 1 and No. 144 was 15,300 points. This year, the gap between first and last is 7,930 points.

— An additional 2,000 points are available at every position in the playoff events. That means the player at No. 44 could win The Barclays and move up to No. 1 in the standings. Last year, the highest No. 144 could improve with a victory was to No. 27.

Now, the odds of that happening are about the same as Woods kissing the FedEx Cup. The reason guys like Janzen and Beem have such low seeds is they haven't come close to winning in their 20 previous tournaments.

But at least there's hope, giving these "playoffs" a chance to look like other postseasons.

"The tour said they wanted more volatility, but are they setting themselves up for a guy like me?" Beem said. "Have I had a better year than Kenny Perry or Padraig Harrington? No. But the playoffs aren't all about who had the best year, it's who is playing well in the playoffs. The New York Giants certainly were not the best team in the league, but they won the Super Bowl."

The Giants first had to win road games against Tampa Bay, the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers. That might be easier than Beem, Janzen or anyone else outside the top 70 suddenly finding their game and sustaining it for the next month.

And it makes it harder for those who don't play.

Woods, who played only six times this year and still earned the No. 1 seed, isn't the only player on injured reserve. Luke Donald (44) is done for the season after wrist surgery, joined by Alex Cejka (91), Jason Bohn (96) and Roland Thatcher (140). Bob Estes (124) is getting married this weekend, Justin Rose (78) is playing in Holland to bolster his Ryder Cup bid and Lee Westwood (50) is on holiday.

Only 136 players will tee it up Thursday at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

That Beem is among them is still hard for him to fathom.

"I seem to be the biggest procrastinator in the world when it means something," Beem said. "It's a wonder I ever got married and had kids. But you know, they give you 42 weeks. Just because I waited until the last week doesn't bother me. I'm elated to be where I'm at."

Instead of going home to Austin, Texas, for the next month, Beem had to rearrange his travel schedule. He found a hotel for The Barclays, and was thinking about making hotel reservations in the Boston area for next week.

Then he changed his mind.

"Maybe I should wait until Sunday," he said.

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