AUGUSTA, Ga. - A year ago, Chris DiMarco went to bed after the third round of the Masters sharing the lead with Phil Mickelson going into Sunday at Augusta National. About the most memorable thing DiMarco did in the final round was to give Mickelson a great read on what turned out to be his winning putt.
"I learned, I watched how it was done," DiMarco, who shot 4-over-par 76 and faded to a tie for sixth, recalled last night. "If anybody had sat back and had the best seat in the house, it was me. [Mickelson] had fun. That's what he did. He was also playing some really good golf and he was being very aggressive. That's what you have to do."
DiMarco will try to put what he learned to use, when he takes a four-stroke lead into the final 27 holes of what has been so far a weird and wet tournament, but could produce a wonderful finish at the 69th Masters. Given how much golf is to be played, and who is lurking, holding this lead might be even tougher than sharing it was last year.
Looking to win his fourth Masters and ninth major championship - his first in 34 months - Tiger Woods put on a charge that was reminiscent of the kind he made almost routinely earlier in his legendary career. He started the second round yesterday morning at 2-over, seven shots behind DiMarco, and played 26 holes - the last 17 of his second round and the first nine of his third - in 11-under.
"The good thing I kept telling myself, I kept hitting good golf shots," Woods said. "Just nothing happened. You know, [on] No. 13 I putted the ball into the water [on Thursday]. I kept hitting good golf shots and I would just mess it up, or I'd get a bad break. Keep hitting good golf shots and it will turn and luckily, it did."
It started to turn on the front nine in the morning, when Woods played the last eight holes of a second-round 66 in 2-under, then went back out in the afternoon on the front nine again and shot 5-under 31, finishing with three straight birdies and a muddy tee ball on the 10th that he got to pick up and clean after play was suspended.
"It was a great break when they blew the horn," Woods said.
In truth, the fading sunlight might have been the only thing to prevent Woods from catching DiMarco last night. While there are others still in contention, including Thomas Bjorn of Denmark at 8-under through 45 holes, it seems like all eyes are on the 29-year-old Woods.
DiMarco will try to make sure his are focused elsewhere.
Asked if he'd rather be paired with Woods when the final round gets under way this afternoon, DiMarco said, "It really doesn't matter, to tell you the truth. He's going to shoot his numbers whether it's in front of me or whether it's with me. It doesn't matter. If I just worry about my own game, it really doesn't matter."
In fact, DiMarco didn't think he really lost ground, or momentum, yesterday.
"I'm fine," he said. "[Woods] shot 31 on [his last nine yesterday]. But you expect that. If I shoot 36, I'm only one shot up [now]. But I shot 33, so I played a good nine myself. If I go around and make a few birdies on the back, we'll be fine."
If DiMarco continues to play as he has since his second hole on Thursday, the 36-year-old has a great chance to win for the first time since the 2002 Phoenix Open and the fourth time overall. DiMarco has played the past 44 holes without making a bogey.
"I made a bunch of good 5-, 6-, 7-footers for par all day today and that's what you have to do around here," DiMarco said.
And what does he expect to do today?
"You know it's going to be fun," said DiMarco, who also lost in a three-way playoff won by Vijay Singh in last year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. "I'm looking forward to it. I've got a lot of great players behind me that are trying to win, too. I'm going to have to keep the foot on the accelerator for sure."
Aside from Woods and Bjorn, the No. 1-ranked Singh is nine shots behind DiMarco and has played one more hole. Australians Mark Hensby and Rod Pampling are also at 4-under through 45 and 48 holes, respectively. Seven players, including Mickelson and 2003 champion Mike Weir of Canada, are at 3-under.
But all the attention will be on Woods if he is anywhere near the lead, or in it, when the final round begins later today.
"I've just got to set myself up," said Woods. "We've got a long way to go. We've got 27 holes to go. As I said out there, it's a long, patient day, and I've just got to continue to be patient and plod your way along. We're obviously going to have some time between rounds, get focused, get something to eat and off you go again."
Someone asked Woods if he could understand the pressure he puts on someone like DiMarco.
"Not at all," he said.
"I'm not in his shoes," Woods said.
Someone asked DiMarco if he is as comfortable as he looks, even when he gets in trouble.
"Well, I'm certainly nervous out there," he said. "I don't think anybody who would be in that position is [comfortable]. I'm sure Tiger is even a little nervous himself. It's just part of the game. That's what we strive for. That's what you want ... to be in that position and have the adrenaline going and see how you react."
DiMarco has the same seat he had here a year ago. This time, it might even get a little hotter.