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DiMarco comes up just short in a major ... again
by Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) - Surely one of these days Chris DiMarco will be leading a major when it counts.

But give him his due this time: He stared down Tiger Woods in one of the greatest duels in Masters history.

Matching Woods almost shot for shot in an epic showdown, DiMarco overcame a two-stroke deficit in the final two holes Sunday, nearly holing out a chip at No. 18 that would have claimed his first major championship.

In the end, it wasn't quite enough. DiMarco forced a playoff but could only make par on the first extra hole. Then he could only watch as Woods rolled in a 15-foot birdie to win his fourth Masters and ninth major overall.

DiMarco keeps contending in the biggest tournaments - especially at Augusta. He's led at the end of a round five times in five years, including both the 18- and 36-hole marks of this one.

For the second year in a row, he played in the final group at the Masters. For the second straight major, he was involved in a playoff.

"This was a good gut check for me," DiMarco said. "I felt like I proved a lot to myself."

Last August, DiMarco was matched against Justin Leonard and Vijay Singh in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Singh birdied the first extra hole and parred the next two for the victory. DiMarco had to be content with a closing 71, the lone player in the last nine groups to break par.

DiMarco put up an even lower score Sunday, finishing with a 4-under-par 68 that had him pumping his fist, dropping to his knees and thoroughly enjoying the moment.

This was just the sort of chance that someone with DiMarco's combative, gritty, emotional personality lives for.

One hole against the greatest player of the generation.

Winner take all.

"I told my caddie walking down 18, 'If you're not having fun doing this, there's something wrong with you,"' DiMarco said. "Sure, my stomach was churning. But it's nice to know when you're stomach's going crazy and you're going crazy, you can still perform.

"If I can do it in this atmosphere, I can do it anywhere."

Woods was certainly impressed.

"He never gives up," Woods said. "He never backs off."

DiMarco is the first golfer to lose a playoff in consecutive majors since Tom Watson at the 1978 PGA and '79 Masters. In fact, DiMarco is the first since then even to make back-to-back playoffs.

Ultimately, his hopes were ruined by what he did in the morning, not the afternoon. Coming back to finish the weather-delayed third round with a four-stroke lead, DiMarco double-bogeyed his first hole after hitting his second shot into a bush. He went on to a 5-over 41 on the back nine and trailed Woods by three shots starting the afternoon.

After that debacle, DiMarco changed his outfit - shirt, shoes, belt, socks, the works - and hoped for a better result. He struggled with his putter on the front side, squandering several good birdie chances, and was still three strokes down at the turn.

It was a daunting deficit against Woods, who had never surrendered a lead in the final round of a major, and never one that large no matter what the setting.

But DiMarco wasn't done.

Things began to change as the twosome headed toward Amen Corner. Woods bogeyed the 10th, and DiMarco rolled in an 8-footer to save par. Two strokes down.

At No. 11, DiMarco sank a putt that sent the patrons into a frenzy, a 35-footer up the hill. He pumped his right fist in the air, a la Woods, and went to the 12th only one shot behind.

But DiMarco yanked his tee shot over Rae's Creek, and couldn't get up and down from left of the green. Woods by two.

DiMarco responded at the 14th with perhaps his best shot of the day, a 202-yarder that rolled right next to the cup for a tap-in birdie. One down.

He seemed like the guy with the lead on the par-5 15th, laying up while Woods flew his second shot over the water into the back bunker. But playing it safe paid off: DiMarco nailed a sand wedge to 4 feet, matched Woods' birdie and still trailed by one.

At the 16th, DiMarco put his tee shot safety in the middle of the green, 15 feet below the hole, while Woods flew his just off the back. Then came the shot that will define this tournament.

Woods skipped his chip shot up the slope and let it crawl 25 feet to the cup. It tilted right, then left and finally hung improbably on the lip for two full seconds before tumbling in.

Two shots down with two holes to go against the greatest closer in golf, and still DiMarco didn't flinch.

He parred the 17th to Woods' bogey and nearly made what would have been the winning birdie chip after his second shot tumbled off the front of the green at 18.

The ball caught the right edge, spun around the flagpole and wound up 6 feet away. DiMarco fell to his knees in dismay.

"The difference was his chip went in on 16 and my chip lipped out on 18," DiMarco said. "I don't know how it didn't go in. By all rights it should have gone in."


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