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DiMarco has a leg up

Leader Chris DiMarco coaxes in a birdie putt on the 16th hole during Saturday's second-round play of the 2005 Masters at  Augusta National. 
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Leader Chris DiMarco coaxes in a birdie putt on the 16th hole during Saturday's second-round play of the 2005 Masters at Augusta National. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Chris DiMarco knows what it takes to win the Masters.

Phil Mickelson showed him the way last year, making birdie on five of the last seven holes as DiMarco played alongside in the final group.

Tiger Woods gave him a reminder Saturday.

Just when it looked as though DiMarco might run away from the field, Woods sent rain-soaked Augusta National into a frenzy by firing off five birdies and chipping away at the lead.

“I’m going to have to keep the foot on the accelerator,” DiMarco said. “Going out and trying to hold onto a lead isn’t going to do it. Go out and step on it. That’s what you have to do around here.”

Through three rain-soaked days, no one has done it better.

DiMarco played 26 holes Saturday without a bogey — he hasn’t made one since his first hole of the tournament — and did his best to match birdies with Woods. When the third round was suspended in fading light, DiMarco was at 13 under par through nine holes and had a four-shot lead over Woods.

This time, the Masters won’t start until the back nine this morning. The 44 players who didn’t finish the third round will return at 8 a.m. (EDT).

Woods was closing fast, firing off a 31 on the front nine with shots that brought the gallery to its feet. It even looked like he finally had some luck on his side at the end of the day — when play was suspended, he was in the 10th fairway with a clump of mud on his ball, so he can start today with a clean one.

DiMarco refused to buckle, pumping his fist and gritting his teeth with each putt that fell.

Still in the picture was Thomas Bjorn, who was at 8 under. He played with DiMarco, but couldn’t help but notice what Woods was doing up ahead.

“If Chris plays the way he is, he’s going to be difficult to beat,” Bjorn said. “But Tiger is Tiger. He gets on those kind of runs where you never know what’s going to happen.”

Despite the mud and muck brought on by rain, and confusion over a computer glitch that delayed the start of the third round by 20 minutes, one thing became clear.

DiMarco had control of the Masters.

“I’m looking forward to it,” DiMarco said. “I’ve got a lot of great players behind me that are trying to win, too.”

Most of them have a lot of ground to make up.

Vijay Singh and two Australians, Rod Pampling and Mark Hensby, were at 4 under. Mickelson, trying to become only the fourth player to win consecutive Masters, was among those at 3 under.

DiMarco couldn’t ignore what Woods was doing. If he couldn’t see the shots, he could hear the crowd. When he realized that Woods had a 31 on the front nine, he was hardly worried.

“You expect that, don’t you?” DiMarco said. “If I shoot 36, I’m only one shot up. And I went out and shot 33, so I played a good nine myself. If I go around and make a few birdies on the back, we’ll be fine.”

DiMarco keeps putting himself in contention at the Masters — the second round was his fifth time atop the Augusta National leaderboard since 2001. He lost in a playoff in the last major he played, the PGA Championship in August.

Woods, who has gone 10 majors without winning, looked like an eight-time major winner.

“I kept telling myself I was hitting good shots, but nothing happened,” Woods said. “Just hang in there, and keep hitting quality shots and it will turn. Luckily, it turned.”

DiMarco only has three PGA Tour victories, none particularly memorable. But he has raised his game at the majors, especially at Augusta National. When his birdie putt on the 18th stayed just short of the hole, DiMarco had a 67 in the second round and the 36-hole lead at the Masters for the second time in five years.

He had a two-shot lead in 2001 and crumbled playing with Woods.

Woods didn’t figure to work his way into the mix, not after opening with a 74 and cursing the first shot he hit from the fairway. But he birdied the first two holes he played Saturday, and kept his round going with a par on No. 6 by chipping off the top tier of the green to avoid the severe slope.

A birdie on the ninth put him under par for the first time. Two-putt birdies on both par 5s on the back nine carried him to a 66, the first time in two years at a major he had the low score in a round.

The cut was at 4-over 148, and led to an early departure for Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and David Toms. It almost got Ernie Els, too. The Big Easy had to make a bending 10-footer for par on the 18th hole to make the cut on the number.


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