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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California, Feb 16 (Reuters) - American Charlie Beljan had the time of his life at the Northern Trust Open on Saturday, outscoring his playing partners Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els before getting both men to sign his cap.
Just three months after winning his maiden PGA Tour title despite suffering a panic attack midway through the tournament, Beljan enjoyed an adrenaline-filled day in dazzling sunshine at Riviera Country Club in the company of two Hall of Famers.
"When I got the text last night, my heart started pounding," Beljan told reporters about his high-profile grouping for the third round. "Two years ago I was playing the Gateway Tour, then lucky enough last year to get on the PGA Tour and get a victory.
"To tee it up with Mr. Els and Mr. Mickelson and to have a day like I did is something that I'll never forget. I had them both sign my visor and I'll put it in a nice frame at home so I'll always have something to remember."
Beljan, who won the Children's Miracle Network Classic in November after suffering heart palpitations and shortness of breath during the second round, fired a sparkling three-under-par 68 in tricky scoring conditions on Saturday.
He covered the difficult back nine in a blistering four-under 32 and ended the day in a tie for seventh at seven under, having outshone four-times major winners Mickelson (72) and Els (73) in front of huge galleries at Riviera.
A smiling Beljan agreed when a reporter suggested to him that the two heavyweight players had, in all likelihood, very rarely been asked for an autograph by a fellow player.
"They probably aren't, but hey, I'll ask," the 28-year-od grinned. "What's the worst they are going to tell me? No? But it was very kind for them both to do that. I appreciated it and they didn't have any issue."
Beljan, who had missed the cut in his previous four starts on the 2013 PGA Tour, was delighted to rebound from two bogeys on his front nine with a strong four-birdie run after the turn.
"I could have birdied every hole on the back nine realistically without making more than a 15 or 20-footer," he said.
"These greens are tough. I wish I could have had a few more putts drop but I've got a great chance tomorrow and I look forward to it," added Beljan, who trails pacesetting American Bill Haas by five strokes.
"If you told me I was going to shoot three under par today, or if I was going to shoot even par, I would have been thrilled to death. I'm ecstatic, I'm happy. Life's good." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)