So, Everyman, which of those contenders do you root for in today’s final round at Riviera Country Club? High-living Rich Beem, a major winner now working out of the “He’s Still Playing?” branch of the PGA Tour, fired himself to within two strokes of high-flying Phil Mickelson with a 6-under 65 that included a hole-in-one. PACIFIC PALISADES A guy doing a touchdown dance to celebrate the acquisition of a $30,000 car stole the Nissan Open sunlight Saturday from a tournament leader making his morning commute in a rented jet. Of course, saying Beem’s round included an ace is like saying a Super Bowl halftime included Janet Jackson. As soon as the 7-iron shot completed its 177-yard journey by one-hopping into the cup cut into the right side of the 14th green, Beem thrust his fists in the air. Then he turned and ran to the red Nissan Altima Coupe parked behind the tee, the sponsor’s car that was the prize for a hole-in-one this week. Then he climbed up the back of the car, hugged the roof and ended up sitting on top in a triumphant pose – at least until it occurred to him that the vehicle had been baking in the sun all day. “You know, I stole that from (Peter) Jacobsen,” the man known as Beemer said of his reaction to winning a Nissan. “I wish I could take full credit for making a fool out of myself.” At the 1994 Nissan Open, Jacobsen aced the same hole, jumped into the convertible that was that year’s prize and pretended to drive it away. “I just saw that car (Saturday), and I thought, `Hell, might as well,”‘ Beem said. “I tell you what, the top of that hood was pretty warm, and the back of it is a little scratched up from my shoes.” Somebody asked if he was thinking more about the hole-in-one or the two-stroke pickup, which makes the difference between being tied for fifth at 9 under and alone in third at 11 under, trailing only 13-under Mickelson and 12-under Padraig Harrington after three rounds. “I’m thinking, `I just won a car, and it’s going to cost me an awful lot in the bar later on,”‘ Beem said. “I just had fun.” For the longest time, the paragraph above could have told you everything about Beem. A one-time winner in his first three years on tour, the New Mexico State product was known for twothings: He had once quit golf and taken a job selling cell phones and car stereos in Seattle for $7 an hour, and even after rededicating himself, he was one of the tour’s heavy-duty party boys. When he jumped up and made his third tour victory a major one in the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Minnesota, some of the ugly details hit the public prints. Not long after his first career win at the 1999 Kemper Open, Beem had been jailed in Scotland for driving under the influence the week of the British Open. Seeing that Beem, now 36years old, hasn’t won since that PGA Championship – sinking as low as 183rd in year-end tour rankings – you might think he partied his talent away. But listening to him Saturday, you get the idea it’s settling down that’s been his problem. He got married in December 2001, and he and his wife have a son and daughter. “Golf happened. Life happened. It’s pretty simple,” Beem said of his decline. “I won a major championship, and I’m on top of the world and there’s only one place for me to go – and that’s down. “Between having kids, moving (from New Mexico to Austin, Texas), and trying to deal with everything else in life, you know, golf hasn’t been a priority for me. Yes, it was (a priority) to a point, but I didn’t get excited about it.” Beem seems to be excited about it again. He finished tied for ninth behind Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines last month, his first top 10 in nearly 11 months. Now, with rounds of 69, 68 and 65 at Riviera, he has shot in the 60s in five of his past sevenrounds. Maybe it’s the urgency that goes with knowing the qualifying exemption he earned with the PGA Championship expires after this season, meaning he’d better win a tournament or hit the top 125 on the money list in 2007. “I don’t know what it is, but I really enjoy coming out to the golf course (again),” Beem said. “I enjoy the challenge of it now. … Since I’ve seen how bad it can be, it just makes days like today, weeks like this week, that much better.” And he hasn’t been completely domesticated. “I still love the occasional cocktail after a good round of golf, after today,” Beem said. “I’m the same guy who I am. I’m just a little bit older. “As you get older, you know, you just grow up. I think that’s normal for everybody. Besides, the hangovers really hurt.” The sight of a grown man in a chartreuse shirt jumping onto the roof of a car suggests Beem’s harder work and sharper play hasn’t made him a dull boy. Every golf tournament needs a working-class hero, and next to Mickelson’s business-jet commute from San Diego, Beem’s bid to keep his tour card is just the ticket. “We should have more guys out here like him,” Ernie Els said. “He really lets you see what he feels.” It was Els, playing Saturday with Beem and Jim Furyk, who “called” the ace at 14. With the ball in the air, Els said, “Hey, boys, it’s a 1!” What happened next, Els couldn’t have predicted. “I was afraid to look,” Els said. “I didn’t know if he was going to fall through the window or what he was going to do.” This morning, Beem tees off with Mickelson and Harrington, a guy with a car against a couple of jetsetters. Don’t be afraid to look. Kevin Modesti’s column appears in the Daily News three days a week. [email protected] (818) 713-3616 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!