Overachiever or Overrated

By Associated PressApril 4, 2006, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Chris DiMarco lost a chipping contest, or he might be the Masters champion.
That's one way to look at it, anyway.
DiMarco is still trying to figure out what he did wrong last year on a Sunday at Augusta National ablaze with drama. Was it his fault Tiger Woods chipped in for birdie on the 16th hole with a shot that nearly stopped twice, once at the top of the slope, the other on the edge of the cup? Why did DiMarco's chip from the front of the 18th green rattle the pin and stay out?
'I did everything I could to win the tournament,' DiMarco said. 'I just got outchipped, so to speak.'
Then again, DiMarco swears he didn't hit a bad shot on his way to a 41 on the back nine that morning, which turned his four-shot lead into a three-shot deficit. He still remembers a twist of fate Saturday night when the round was suspended.
'Tiger was in the 10th fairway with three-quarters of his ball covered in mud, and I was on the 10th tee,' he said. 'The next morning, he got to put a brand new, clean ball down. And they didn't cut the fairways. If he would have hit his second shot, I don't think he would have hit the green with that much mud. And I would have hit my 3-wood down to the bottom of the hill.
'I made double (bogey), he made birdie. That's three shots right there.'
It's always something with DiMarco.
Maybe that explains why he has only three PGA Tour trophies, two from tournaments that no longer exist.
He closed with a 2-under 68 in the final round at Firestone last year, tied for the lead, until Woods holed a slick, bending birdie on the 16th hole and finished with two pars to win. He reached the finals of the Match Play Championship and ran into a buzz saw named David Toms, who was unstoppable at La Costa.
He momentarily forgot New Orleans, where he blew a two-shot lead on the back nine and went from a chance to win to missing out on a playoff with a three-putt bogey on the final hole.
DiMarco squandered a huge lead in the International two years ago, failing to make enough birdies on the weekend. His psychologist told him that he simply peaked too early. A week later at Whistling Straits, DiMarco played beautifully on the back nine of the PGA Championship and had an 18-foot birdie putt to win, but left it short -- no doubt, the putt peaked too early -- and lost in a playoff.
There are so many close calls. There are so few trophies.
All of which begs a question that is difficult to answer. Is he an overachiever or overrated?
Given his raw talent and minimal length compared with peers such as Woods, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els, the 37-year-old DiMarco has squeezed everything out of his game. He nearly quit professional golf when he couldn't putt early in his career, switched to the 'Claw' putting style and has earned $17 million.
He has played in the Ryder Cup once, the Presidents Cup twice and is No. 10 in the world. But his last victory on the PGA Tour was in Phoenix four years ago.
Overachiever or underachiever?
'Chris has been there in a bunch of tournaments,' Woods said. 'And, unfortunately, guys have come up with the goods at the wrong time for him. That's not saying Chris has played poorly. It's just that he's been there enough times when guys have played better. That's just the way it goes.'
Woods makes it sound as though it's only a matter of time for DiMarco.
'He's a wonderful iron player, putts really well, and he grinds it out,' Woods continued. 'That's one of the things that we all admire about Chris. He gives you everything he's got, every day.'
DiMarco couldn't agree more.
He was asked if he liked his chances at the Match Play Championship after getting through the first two rounds.
'There might be guys that are better than me, but as far as competitiveness and never giving up and always fighting and clawing, I don't think there's too many guys that have that,' he said.
Half of the 16 players remaining that day were major champions, from Woods and Vijay Singh to Toms and Retief Goosen, all of them plenty tough, even if they don't show it on TV. DiMarco is full of passion when he plays, especially in match play, although for some reason, that doesn't translate to the back nine when he's trying to win a major, or any tournament.
Which raises another question.
Does he have what it takes? Or is he a victim of bad luck?
If his performance last year in the Masters isn't enough -- he and Woods were seven shots better than anyone else -- perhaps DiMarco can lean on praise from Jack Nicklaus.
DiMarco was the star of Captain Jack's team in the Presidents Cup late last year, teaming well with Mickelson, then earning the decisive point with a splendid bunker shot to 15 feet on the final hole, and a birdie putt that was the biggest of his career. He ran off the green and into the arms of Nicklaus as his teammates piled on.
'He keeps chipping away at that next level,' Nicklaus said. 'I would be very, very surprised if he doesn't go right to that next level the next time he's out.'
The next level is a major. The next chance is this week, at the Masters.
DiMarco has played in the final group the last two years, and maybe fate is on his side. The last time Nicklaus predicted great things for one of his Presidents Cup players was in South Africa at the end of the 2003 season.
Five months later, Mickelson was wearing a green jacket.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 70th Masters Tournament
    Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
  • Getty Images

    LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

    The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

    The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

    The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

    The LAAC was founded by The Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

    The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in The Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

    Getty Images

    Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

    An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

    It was too much “socializing.”

    “I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

    Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

    “Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

    Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

    His plan for doing that?

    “Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

    Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

    McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

    Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

    So much for easing into the new year.

    So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

    McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

    “It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

    McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

    If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

    After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

    “It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

    McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

    It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

    “When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

    A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

    A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

    Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

    To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

    Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

    McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

    “I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

    A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

    “I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

    A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

    Getty Images

    Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

    SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

    The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

    Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

    Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

    ''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

    The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

    ''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

    Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

    ''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

    Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

    He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

    Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

    Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

    He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

    Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.