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No shortage of compelling third-round stories at storied Riviera

Blayne Barber, Charlie Beljan, Bill Haas occupy different spots on Northern Trust Open leaderboard but have this much in common: All have interesting tales to tell.

February 17, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Charlie Beljan finished with the lowest score of his trio, which also included Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, during Saturday's round at the Riviera.
Charlie Beljan finished with the lowest score of his trio, which also included… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Saturday's third round of golf in the Northern Trust Open was like the line in the old TV series "Naked City."

There were eight million stories at Riviera. Here are three.

Barber can cut it

Blayne Barber, 69-70-72—211; two under, tied for 22nd.

He is a tour infant. He looks like shaving is a new deal, so walking the storied fairways made legendary by Hogan and Snead, Palmer and Nicklaus, had to be overwhelming.

He played for Auburn in last year's NCAA championships at Riviera and tied for seventh.

"I feel comfortable here," Barber said, which is like saying you are cuddly with the crocodiles in the swamps.

Normally, he would be on nobody's radar. His life would have already settled into long car rides, endless days of driving ranges and McDonald's hamburgers, and defining moments of four-footers worth $250 on the Hooters Tour.

But he has momentarily emerged from the masses for two reasons. The first is he made the cut here and is actually still in the mix going into the final day, 10 shots back. If he can finish in the top 10, he will qualify for the next available PGA Tour event, the Honda Classic, in Florida.

The second is that he recently paid homage to the gods of golf, who demand total adherence and full disclosure to the rules of the game.

Late last year, Barber had made it through the first stage of the tour's qualifying school in Pine Mountain, Ga. — despite penalizing himself a stroke for touching a leaf in a sand trap on his backswing. He told his playing partners at the time what he was doing, but later, a friend suggested that his infraction was a two-stroke penalty, not one. A few days later, before he was to play in the next qualifying stage, he called tour headquarters and disqualified himself for — unknowingly at the time — signing an incorrect scorecard.

"I just feel I did what was right," Barber said Saturday.

He had some time before the next Hooters Tour event, so he played in a Northern Trust pre-qualifier at Tukwet Canyon in Beaumont. His 66 put him in a final qualifier Monday at Industry Hills Eisenhower course. Most people would rather stick needles in their eyes than play there, but Barber shot 65 and now is playing with the big boys.

Ring it up

Charlie Beljan, 67-71-68—206; seven under, tied for seventh.

If the name rings a bell, remember the last tour event of the season, the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Disney World. Beljan, a 28-year-old with enough Q-school exemptions to have a chance to play his way onto the regular tour, led after the second round.

He also left the course on a stretcher.

He had had an anxiety attack. It turns out he hadn't eaten enough; actually, he often went for a full day without eating.

"I'm not a foodie," he says, punctuating the obvious.

He recovered, won the tournament, and spent the next several months retelling the story to every media member who asked.

Friday night, he received a text message with his Saturday pairing. He would play with Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els. It would be a threesome with eight major titles — Mickelson's four and Els' four.

Beljan, with a great swing and a similar sense of humor, said, "It's a circus out there with Phil. I don't know how he does it, week in and week out."

He said everything Mickelson did brought huge reaction. His own shots, not so much.

"I striped a drive down the middle and had to ask for somebody to clap," he said.

When it was over, he asked Mickelson and Els to sign the bill of his visor. They did. "It's for me," he said.

The Big Threesome's final tally: Els 73, Mickelson 72, guy with signed visor 68.

Haas afire

Bill Haas, 70-67-64—201; 12 under, leader by three.

Friday, he chipped in on No. 18 to save par. Saturday, he went on a mid-round run of four birdies and an eagle in seven holes.

He won the Fed-Ex Cup season-ender in 2011 by making the famous chip out of the water. That was worth $11.44 million. He won last year's Northern Trust in a playoff with Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, dropping in a long-bomb putt on the usually un-puttable No. 10.

His perspective on those two events is interesting, hinting at the value of tradition over dollars.

"This tournament is probably my best win," he said Saturday.

It is not the Haas family's best win, despite an additional long and productive career by Bill's dad, Jay. That best win came in 1968, when Bill's great uncle, Bob Goalby, won the Masters in one of the more controversial golf moments in history. Goalby had tied Roberto De Vicenzo for the lead at the end of 72 holes, but the Argentine signed an incorrect scorecard.

"It's a big deal in our family," Haas said. "I love telling people that my great uncle is a Masters champion."

Goalby is 83 now and lives part time in Palm Springs. He still gets out to watch his great nephew play on occasion, usually at the Humana Challenge in the desert in mid-January, a tournament that both Bill and Jay Haas have won.

Haas said his caddie, Billy Harmon, was kidding him about all the Haas family connections this year at the Humana, as Goalby walked in the gallery with him. Haas' brother had just welcomed a new daughter that week, and Harmon asked, "Do you think you'll be out there, watching her son play golf one day?"

Haas said he laughed, but also got additional perspective on family longevity and achievements in golf.

"It's very neat," he said, "and something I'm very proud of."

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