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DiMarco Comes Up Short Stands Tall

135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- Chris and Rich DiMarco stood at the edge of the 18th green, a grieving son and father who began to heal at the British Open.
As Chris waited to receive his runner-up prize, both of them glanced up at the gray, puffy clouds hovering above Royal Liverpool. They whispered something to each other. Chris smiled. Rich's lip quivered a bit, then he rubbed at his left eye.
Chris DiMarco
Chris DiMarco was the only player to put pressure on Tiger Woods down the stretch.
They thought of the woman who seemed to be watching down on them all week. They wondered what she would have said about this one. They wished she could have been there to give them both a big hug when it was done.
'I know my mom would be very proud of me right now,' Chris said a short time later, his emotions bubbling just beneath the surface. 'I miss her and I love her and I have great memories of her. That's the hardest part -- that I know I'll never see her again. But I know if I close my eyes, I see her.'
Norma DiMarco died suddenly on the Fourth of July during a family vacation, leaving behind her husband of 46 years and the bulldog of a son she helped mold into one of the world's best golfers.
Throughout the week, Chris felt as if he was being helped along by divine intervention. He was stunned when he got to the tee box Saturday and found out that the woman keeping score from his group was named Norma. He couldn't help but wonder what forces were at work as he played better than he has in months.
Alas, it wasn't enough to catch another golfer dealing with his own heartache. Tiger Woods had a one-stroke lead at the beginning of the day, a two-stroke advantage when it was over and hoisted the claret jug for the second year in a row.
For Woods, it was the 11th major title but the first since his beloved mentor of a dad passed away a couple of months ago following a long battle with cancer. The winner cried like he's never cried before after tapping in the final putt.
The guy who finished second knew what Woods was going through. He, too, felt the comforting hand of a lost parent as he strolled around this seaside course in northwest England.
'It just helps knowing that she was a big part out there today,' Chris DiMarco said. 'I know I'll have her with me the rest of my life.'
DiMarco still lacks a major title of his own, having lost twice in playoffs -- including a memorable duel with Woods at the 2005 Masters -- and now settling for another runner-up finish.
But he certainly has nothing to be ashamed of. He was the only contender on a leaderboard filled with star power who rose up to challenge Woods. Sergio Garcia, playing in the final group with Woods, faded badly. Ernie Els never mounted a charge. Ditto for Jim Furyk.
DiMarco bogeyed the first hole, which turned out to be his only slip-up on the way to a 4-under 68 -- one of just eight rounds in the 60s on the final day. He played the final 17 holes at 5 under and sank some huge putts, including a 25-foot birdie on No. 13 and a 50-foot par save at the next hole that had the normally reserved British fans in an uproar.
But he was chasing the greatest golfer of this -- perhaps any -- generation. Every time DiMarco got close, the leader responded. When Woods set off on a run of three straight birdies at No. 14, it was over.
'He's a hard guy to catch, I'll tell you that,' DiMarco marveled. 'He's got an uncanny ability when someone gets close to him to just turn it up to another level. I made a great putt on 14 for par, which really pumped me up, and he turns around and birdies 14, 15 and 16.'
That's OK. The DiMarco clan remembered how they felt when they arrived on this side of the Atlantic, overcome with grief and pain, and knew this was a huge first step in getting on with the rest of their lives.
'It's really been tough going for my family,' Rich DiMarco said. 'But this entire week has been a blessing. I told Chris, 'Your mother is here with you in spirit. She is here to spur you on.''
Something surely clicked for Chris this week.
He started out the year fourth in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, but hurt his back in a skiing accident, tried to come back too soon and wound up falling into all sort of bad habits. He plummeted to 21st on the Ryder list and wasn't expected to be much of a factor at Royal Liverpool.
Now, with a second-place showing in the British Open, DiMarco is back up to sixth in the points and virtually assured of playing for the Americans when they show up just across the Irish Sea a couple of months from now to take on the host Europeans.
'I'm sixth now?' DiMarco asked. 'Perfect.'
After Norma's funeral, Chris gave his ring from the 2005 President's Cup to his father, who wore it proudly on his right hand as he walked the course Sunday. Even though Chris didn't win, Rich never has been more proud of his son.
'I believe in God. I'm a man of faith,' the father said. 'I prayed so hard that this would come true. From the first putt to the last putt, I prayed so hard. And he made them from everywhere. If not for Tiger, who's the best there ever was, Chris would have a couple of majors by now.'
That said, there's no hard feelings about this unfortunate bit of timing. In the interview room, Rich DiMarco ran into Woods, who was holding the claret jug. The two stopped, shook hands and exchanged a few comforting words.
'He said, 'I know exactly what you're going through. My dad was my best friend and your wife was your best friend,'' Rich DiMarco said, having to wipe away a few more tears. 'That really made me feel good. He's a fine kid. He really is.'
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - 135th Open Championship
  • Course Tour - Royal Liverpool
  • Full Coverage - 135th Open Championship
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