Ailing Beljan leads PGA event
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Charlie Beljan was in a hospital bed in the middle of the night, still wearing his golf shoes, thinking his season was over.
He was about six hours from his tee time Saturday at Disney. Just 12 hours earlier, he was having a panic attack on the golf course so severe that he could barely breathe, his blood pressure spiked and his arms felt numb. After signing his card, he was strapped into a stretcher, loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.
“I thought I literally had a chance to die,” Beljan said.
In a turnaround that even by Disney's standards seems like a fairy tale, the 28-year-old rookie has a chance to win his first PGA Tour title.
Beljan was released from the hospital, overcame two early bogeys and was solid over the final hour in the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic for a 1-under-par 71 that gave him a two-shot lead going into the final round.
“I honestly didn't know if I was going to play one hole, any holes or was I going to get through the day,” Beljan said. “I felt good, better as the day went on, and I just hung tough, hung in there. I knew what the rewards were at the end of the week if I could pull something off, and that's kind of what kept me going.”
The rewards were ample.
This is the final PGA Tour event of the year, and Beljan is No. 139 on the money list. Only the top 125 get full cards for next year. Doctors told him he was in good enough health to be released but perhaps not to play golf. He ignored their recommendations.
“The position I'm in, it's kind of hard not to show up,” he said before teeing off.
Beljan had a pair of three-putt bogeys that cost him his three-shot lead after three holes and felt some tightening in his chest as he approached the turn, the same symptoms that caused much fear Friday. But he steadied himself, began the back nine with back-to-back birdies and kept in front.
He was at 13-under 203, two shots ahead of Brian Gay (67), Josh Teater (67) and Charlie Wi, who was tied for the lead until closing with two bogeys 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 taking his blood pressure on the 10th tee. 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, 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's three-shot lead was gone before he stepped onto the fourth tee in the third round. He will start Sunday with 11 players separated by three shots. That includes 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.
“I think the big advantage for me is I'm not thinking about the golf or the putts or the chips or the shots or the swings,” said Beljan, who didn't even realize he was in the lead until about 10:30 p.m. Friday at the hospital. “I'm just thinking about my health, one shot at a time, one hole at a time. And shoot, the last 36 holes it's worked out pretty well.”
In Guadalajara, Mexico, Inbee Park moved into position for her third victory of the year, shooting a 6-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.
The South Korean player had a 15-under 201 total at Guadalajara Country Club. She won the Evian Masters in France in July and the LPGA Malaysia last month and leads the LPGA Tour money list.
Park also is trying to catch Stacy Lewis in the player of the year points race, but has to win Sunday and next week in the season-ending Titleholders to have any chance to pass Lewis.
Cristie Kerr was second after a 67.
So Yeon Ryu was third at 12 under after a 67. Second-round leader Angela Stanford was another stroke back after a 72, and Karine Icher had a 69 to reach 9-under.
Lewis, coming off her tour-leading fourth victory of the year last week in Japan, was tied for sixth at 8-under with Michelle Wie, Candie Kung and Hee Kyung Seo. Trying to become the first U.S. player of the year since Beth Daniel in 1994, Lewis shot a 71. Wie followed her second-round 75 with a 67.
Ochoa was 3-under after a 70. The Mexican star won 27 LPGA Tour titles before retiring at age 28 in 2010. She missed the event last year before the birth of son Pedro in December.
European PGA Tour
In Singapore, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn had a one-stroke lead over England's Chris Wood when third-round play in the rain-soaked Singapore Open was suspended because of darkness.
Bjorn was 9-under overall with 15 holes left in the third round. Wood also completed three holes in the round.
Officials are still planning to play 72 holes unless storms cause more delays Sunday in the event sanctioned by the European and Asian tours.
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy was 4-under with nine holes left, and Phil Mickelson was 1-under with 14 holes remaining.