- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2001

At the Masters last month, Chris DiMarco was the first-round leader with a 65. And I and a lot of other media types didn't pay much attention.
In the second round, DiMarco tacked on a 69 to increase his lead to two. And I and a lot of other media types still didn't pay much attention.
This, after all, was his first appearance at Augusta after 11 years of thrashing about on various golf tours (following his All-American days at Florida). That alone seemed to disqualify him from serious consideration. He had developed into a nice player, the winner of the 2000 SEI Pennsylvania Classic, but he had never had to battle the likes of Tiger Woods, David Duval and Phil Mickelson for 36 holes in a major championship.
DiMarco didn't just quietly fade away, though. In fact, he played in the next-to-last group on the final day with Mark Calcavecchia. And while he wound up 10th behind Tiger big surprise there people gained a much greater appreciation for his abilities.
So much so that when he put up a 65 early yesterday afternoon to bolt to the top of the Kemper Open leader board, I was one of the first ones at his elbow, nagging him with questions. Winning the Masters might be a stretch for DiMarco, but winning at Avenel certainly isn't. He's just the kind of up-and-comer the Kemper usually embraces though, at 32, he's no kid.
Indeed, the course of his career is very Tom Lehman-like. Lehman didn't become established on the PGA Tour until he was 32 and didn't attain prominence until he was 35, when he won his first event and finished fourth on the money list. DiMarco, a little ahead of that schedule, settled in on the Tour at 29 and made it into the winner's circle three years later, when he cracked the top 20 on the money list ($1,842,221, good for 19th). Another parallel between the two: One of Lehman's biggest early breakthroughs was also at Augusta, where he tied for third in '93.
It was only after the Masters that DiMarco began to understand the significance of what he had done. During the tournament, he was too busy trying to make birdies to think about the Greater Ramifications. But since then he has run into people people who "don't even watch golf" who told him they saw him on TV. "So it was pretty big," he said. "In the biggest spectacle there is [in his sport], with the world watching, I proved that I can play under that type of pressure. So as far as that goes, it meant a lot for me. If you can perform there, you think you can perform anywhere."
He certainly tore it up yesterday. After three-putting two of the first five holes, he made just about everything he looked at a 20-footer on No. 9, a 15-footer on 11, another 15-footer on 15, a 10-footer on 16. If it hadn't been for two lip-outs, he would have played the last 13 holes in 10-under. He also hit all 14 fairways. Hard to beat that.
But then, DiMarco shoots a low number fairly frequently. His 65 at Avenel was his 11th round of 67 or better in 15 events this year. "Ever since the last tournament in '99, I think I've elevated my game to a new level," he said. "I had a second there [at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic], then I had two seconds last year [Tucson, Memphis] before I finally won. It's just experience. It's just getting there and knowing how you react under that kind of stuff."
Right now DiMarco is known for his quirky putting style a k a "the Claw" as much as anything. The best way to describe it is to say he grips a normal-sized putter as if it were a long putter (the object being to take his right hand out of the equation and essentially swing the club with his left). Fellow pro Skip Kendall demonstrated it to him once, and "I kind of looked at him like he was crazy," DiMarco said. "But I'm kind of glad he did it now."
DiMarco learned a few things from his Masters adventure, too. At least, he hopes he did. He was paired with Woods in the third round, and he was struck by how Tiger was "totally in his element in that situation, where it was a new thing for me." And what did he take away from the experience? "Just to stay patient. Slow down. It's funny how Tiger never hits a shot until he's ready period. I've got to become better at that. When I'm in contention, I've got to walk slower and play slower."
It's a real trick, you have to admit to walk slower, that is, while your career is picking up steam.

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