DiMarco Finds Himself on A Major Cusp

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PINEHURST, N.C. -- Hes still on the outside looking in, and still in search of the major championship the best players need to put a definitive stamp on a successful career.
 
But while Chris DiMarco is waiting, at least give him this: For the first 72 holes of the last two major championships, nobody has played better or shot a lower score than him. Not Tiger Woods. Not Vijay Singh. And not any of the other so-called Big Five who loom as the top contenders at the U.S. Open this week.
 
Instead of the Wanamaker Trophy and a green jacket, though, DiMarco has received two second-place checks, two heartbreaking losses in playoffs and, at least in some minds, the newly bestowed title of Best Player To Never Win A Major.
 
Obviously, the positives are that I basically tied for the win, DiMarco said Tuesday, trying to keep a good spin on his runner-up finishes at the Masters in April and the PGA Championship last summer.
 
All I can take out of that is that when Im coming down the stretch, Im putting myself in position to win the tournament.
 
Anyone who finishes in a tie for the win has come agonizingly close, and the details of DiMarcos last two close calls make them even more painful.
 
At Augusta, he overcame a two-shot deficit to Woods with two holes left to force the playoff. But things wouldve been different had DiMarcos chip from the front of the 18th green in regulation gone into the cup instead of rolling around and spinning out.
 
A couple days after the Masters, it was tough, he said. I relived that chip in my head, knowing that could have gone in and could have changed everything.
 
At Whistling Straits, DiMarco forced a three-way playoff with Singh and Justin Leonard by being the only player in the last nine groups to break par. He just missed an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that wouldve given him the win.
 
There is such a fine line out there, he said.
 
DiMarco has been walking it for a while, now.
 
The 36-year-old University of Florida graduate has been in the top 10 in the Masters three times and finished ninth at the U.S. Open last year. He has led at the end of a round at Augusta five times in five years. Those strong finishes have helped him climb to No. 8 in the World Rankings, which puts him only slightly behind No. 6 Sergio Garcia and No. 7 Adam Scott in the category of best players to have never won a major.
 
Possibly remembering the drama from Augusta, USGA officials paired DiMarco with Woods and Luke Donald in the first two rounds Thursday and Friday'yet another sign for DiMarco that hes among the elite.
 
Five years ago, in the gallery, that kind of pairing would have been widely known as Tiger and the guy in the orange shirt, DiMarco said. But now, lots of people know who he is.
 
Including Woods.
 
It was a great match to go head-to-head like that and we separated ourselves so we didnt have to worry about anybody else, Woods said. Its very rare that you have an opportunity to do that, and that was one of those opportunities.
 
DiMarco is one of those rare top players who doesnt distinguish himself off the tee box, either when it comes to driving distance (he ranks 149th) or accuracy (93rd). What he is, though, is a grinder'gritty is often used to describe him'and he makes that awkward claw-like putting grip work to get in contention more often than not.
 
This tournament, returning to Pinehurst No. 2 after a successful trip in 1999, will almost certainly be won by someone with a top-notch short game. It will take someone with the imagination to find different ways onto these heavily sloped, turtleback greens, whether its bump and run with a fairway wood, using the putter off the green or flipping wedges high enough to land and not move.
 
On Tuesday, several players complained about the chewed-up fringes around the greens, the result of slow growth during a cooler-than-usual spring and the USGAs decision to plant sod around the slopes of the putting surfaces.
 
Theres also thick rough'heavy grass the players said was more difficult than at the last trip here.
 
Temperatures were in the mid-90s Tuesday, and Phil Mickelson said if it stays hot and dry quite a bit over par would be the score I would anticipate winning.
 
If DiMarco is in the mix, hell have the confidence of having been as good or better than everyone in the field for 72 holes of major-championship pressure. Twice.
 
And if theres another playoff ... it will be of the 18-hole variety instead of the three-hole showdown at the PGA or sudden-death at the Masters.
 
Can I take that right now? DiMarco said. I like the 18-hole playoff. Thats the way it should be. If you play 72 holes and finish even, you should get 18 more to see if you can beat that guy.
 
Related links:
  • Full Coverage - 105th U.S. Open

  • Tee Times - U.S. Open

  • Photo Gallery from Pinehurst

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