DiMarco bucks odds, hanging in as game's elite make final drive


AUGUSTA, Ga. - Most figured Chris DiMarco would fade quietly back into obscurity in yesterday's third round of the 65th Masters. They figured that leading after each of the first two rounds might have been a fluke for DiMarco, and the prospect of playing with Tiger Woods would bring him back to reality.

Guess what?

The skeptics were wrong.

While DiMarco went from a one-shot lead to being two behind Woods after shooting an even-par 72, the 32-year-old journeyman stood up well under the pressure that comes with playing in his first Masters, as well as being paired with the world's best player.

"It was fun," said DiMarco. "Of course, I was nervous. He's the best player in the world and I never played with him before [or] in the Masters. Sure, I was nervous. I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't."

Nor would DiMarco say that playing today with Mark Calcavecchia, right in front of Woods and Phil Mickelson, won't be a little easier than if he was in the final pairing again.

"To be honest with you, I get to play with Calc. He's a Gator, I'm a Gator and we're going to be clawing together all day," said DiMarco.

To explain: both played at the University of Florida and both use a clawed putting grip that Skip Kendall taught DiMarco five years ago and DiMarco subsequently taught Calcavecchia.

The putting grip saved DiMarco's career and helped resurrect Calcavecchia's.

DiMarco enjoyed the experience of playing with Woods, despite being outdriven at times by nearly 100 yards.

"He's great to play with, he really is," said DiMarco. "He's very cordial. He tells you obviously when you hit a good shot. He hits it soooo far. Literally, par [for Woods] is 68.

"That's why he's so good, because he doesn't look like he does anything and he shoots 68."

Despite making a bogey on the par-5 second hole, DiMarco kept sole possession of the lead through the par-5 13th.

He fell two behind Woods after he bogeyed and Woods birdied the par-5 15th. He briefly cut his deficit to one with a birdie on the par-3 16th, but then bogeyed the par-4 17th.

"I played the par-5s poorly today," said DiMarco. "If you play them a couple under like you should, it's 68 and right where I need to be. ... I tried to play the smart way on the par-5s and it got me a little bit today, playing 2-over. So I'm going to try to be more aggressive tomorrow on the par-5s."

That shouldn't be difficult playing with Calcavecchia, one of the most aggressive and loosest players on the PGA Tour.

Calcavecchia is capable of putting together the kind of sizzling round that might help him pass Woods and win his first major since the 1989 British Open.

"It feels good," said Calcavecchia, "basically because I'm 40 and although I do have a lot of good golf left in me, assuming my body doesn't completely fall apart, I wanted to get a shot to win another major championship eventually."

Much of Calcavecchia's renewed success, including his victory in this year's Phoenix Open, is the product of his putting stroke.

"I get confidence in a hurry," he said. "It only takes me two or three shots in a row and all of a sudden I feel like I can play again. I hit a lot of good shots today, and what's more important, I knew they were going to be good before I hit them."

DiMarco and Calcavecchia won't be the only players chasing Woods with funky putting styles. There's also Rocco Mediate, who shot his way back into contention with a 6-under-par 66. Mediate is four shots behind Woods.

Mediate was the first player on the PGA Tour to use a long putter, and it has helped rejuvenate his career, as well.

Plagued by back problems, he watched a promising career go into a severe decline before going to the long putter. He won the Buick Open last summer.

"Back then, [the long putter] was looked at as something a professional wouldn't use," said Mediate, 39. "My comment was: Kiss my - . I'm trying to make a living. If you've got to stop me, you'd better do something so I don't get back up. No one really bothered me after that."

And no one is saying anything this week.

"It doesn't matter how, it's just what makes you most comfortable," said Mediate.

Said Calcavecchia, "It just goes to show, there's a lot of different ways to get it in the hole."

It's over for Singh

Defending champion Vijay Singh not only saw his chances to become the first repeat winner since Nick Faldo in 1989 and 1990 end with yesterday's 1-over-par 73, he also saw his string of 34 straight rounds at par or below come to an end.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Singh. "It was out there for the taking. Tomorrow's another day. I just wanted to go out and shoot a decent score. It just didn't happen."

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