LAKE BUENA VISTA — 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 them.
One day after he struggled to breathe and feared for his life because of what he said was a severe panic attack, Beljan managed just fine in the PGA Tour's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic. Despite two early bogeys, and one nervous moment when he felt his chest tighten, he shot 1-under 71 for a two-shot lead going into the final round at the Walt Disney World Resort.
"I honestly didn't know if I was going to play one hole, any holes or was I going to get through the day," said Beljan, 28, a rookie going for his first win. "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."
This is the final 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 to crack that group.
Beljan said he started to feel some of the same symptoms he had Friday as he approached the turn. He ate a sandwich, tried to calm himself, and back-to-back birdies to start the back nine 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 (70).
Tampa resident Ryuji Imada, tied for second after Round 2, shot 73 and was at 8 under.
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 64, Beljan emerged from the scoring room strapped on a stretcher, and he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.
"I thought I literally had a chance to die," Beljan said.
He stayed overnight at Celebration Hospital — with his shoes on for most of the night — and got about an hour of sleep. After being told he was physically fine, he went back to his hotel for a shower and breakfast, and then headed to the course.
LPga: Inbee Park shot 6-under 66 and led Cristie Kerr (67) by two at 15-under 201 in the Lorena Ochoa Invitational at Guadalajara, Mexico. Ochoa (70), who retired in 2010, was 3 under, Seminole's Brittany Lincicome (66) 6 under and Tampa resident Kristy McPherson (74) 3 over.
European: Thomas Bjorn shot 67 in the second round to move into the Singapore Open lead at 9-under 133 and held on to a one-stroke advantage over Chris Wood in Round 3 before play was halted due to darkness. Tropical downpours have caused havoc with the schedule, forcing golfers to finish the second round early Saturday, then start the third round hours later. Officials were planning to play 72 holes unless storms caused more delays today. Rory McIlroy, trying to win the European and PGA Tour money titles in the same year, was at 4 under after two rounds after a second straight 70. Phil Mickelson shot a second straight 70 for a 133 total through 36 holes.