DiMarco having fun on comeback quest;GOLF

Chris DiMarco knows all about cavorting with golf’s elite, from

tussling with Tiger Woods at the

Masters to winning matches in the

Ryder Cup to climbing as high as No. 6 in the world rankings.

DiMarco also knows all about slogging along in the pack, playing

in under-the-radar Fall Series tournaments hoping to simply stay on

the PGA Tour.

That’s the DiMarco who showed up at this week’s Frys.com Open at

CordeValle in San Martin. So even when his 4-foot birdie putt

rimmed out on his final hole of Thursday’s opening round, DiMarco

happily signed for a 4-under-par 67.

It was enough to plant him in a welcome, vaguely familiar spot:

on the leaderboard, three shots off the pace. Rocco Mediate led the

way at 7-under 64 on the picturesque course in the foothills south

of San Jose, with Bo Van Pelt, Ryuji Imada and Paul Goydos posting


DiMarco, given his onetime run as a frequent contender on the

game’s grandest stages, headlined the group chasing Mediate.

DiMarco finished in the top 20 on the money list for six

consecutive years 2000-05, punctuated by his memorable duel with

Woods in the final round of the ’05 Masters.

Remember when Woods sank his improbable, twisting chip shot on

No. 16 at Augusta National, with the ball pausing on the lip before

disappearing? DiMarco stood on the green, watching in dismay as his

deficit grew to two shots. He eventually fell to Woods on the first

playoff hole.

DiMarco had his moments in 2006 – notably finishing second to

Woods, again, in the British Open – but then he fell off the map.

He hasn’t cracked the top 100 on the money list the past three

years, and he enters this week’s event at No. 164.

“The game was no fun early this year, or the last few years,”

DiMarco said Thursday. “When you find yourself wanting to be home

more than playing, that’s not good. But now I’m enjoying going to

the course again.”

DiMarco, now 42 and with specks of gray in his goatee, had

surgery on his left shoulder at the end of 2008, but his descent

started before then. He concentrated on his long game for a while,

to the detriment of his short game. He hit some wayward shots and

lost confidence.

More than anything, maybe, he became too comfortable with his

place in the golf galaxy. DiMarco came to expect high finishes and

big paychecks, until they suddenly stopped – he has only three

top-10 finishes in 104 starts since the start of 2007.

“When you’re up there playing well, you always expect to do

that,” he said. “The problem is if you take golf for granted, this

game will bite you.”

DiMarco didn’t play any majors this year, reflective of his

diminishing status. But he finds hope in some encouraging

performances this summer and in his relentless accuracy off the tee

Thursday, when he hit 13 of 14 fairways.

He has three career wins, but none since 2002.

“I don’t feel like I’m done winning tournaments or competing in

majors,” DiMarco said.