Overachiever or Overrated


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.
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