The Masters:

DiMarco dogged and undaunted

Woods leads distinguished chasing pack, but their prey proves a hard man to pin down

A runaway Chris DiMarco will have to hold off a resurgent Tiger Woods if he is to win his first major title today. And however commanding the American's four-shot lead might appear, with nine holes of the third round left to play this morning, and with Woods looking back to his brilliant Sunday best, it may take some effort from the unheralded 36-year-old.

A runaway Chris DiMarco will have to hold off a resurgent Tiger Woods if he is to win his first major title today. And however commanding the American's four-shot lead might appear, with nine holes of the third round left to play this morning, and with Woods looking back to his brilliant Sunday best, it may take some effort from the unheralded 36-year-old.

Still, the New Yorker should not be discounted from holding on, even in the face of Woods at his most intimidating, especially after his performance yesterday when the storm clouds blessedly took their leave and "moving day" began. And how the players moved ­ unfortunately for the British contingent in a southerly direction.

In contrast, DiMarco did so, in an up, up and away motion duplicating his first-round 67 as the second round was finished off by yesterday lunchtime to grab a lead which he maintained at four shots as he made yet another 15-footer to go to 13 under after nine when the klaxon finally sounded to suspend play last night.

His presence up there was not entirely unexpected either, despite some cruel dismissive mutterings. Last year, the three-time Tour winner held the lead with Phil Mickelson going into the final round before fading into a tie for sixth, while three years before he led after 18 and 36 holes. A dark horse for the course indeed.

There is a thoroughbred in his slipstream, however, and an imposing, snarling one at that. Suddenly, Woods is the member of the Fab Four at the front of the stage again after building on his second-round of 66, by quite thrillingly going out in 31 last night, to stand at nine under after nine, a remarkable 11 under for the day. The 29-year-old hasn't won for the last 10 majors, but yesterday it looked like big business as usual.

There was also a blast from the not-too distant past from Thomas Bjorn as the Dane confidently strode to eight under, bearing little resemblance to the tormented soul who spoke of "my demons" at last year's Masters. It's been a long way back for the 34-year-old to the player who so nearly won the 2003 Open. But maybe Europe can now dream of filling the major void which stretches back to 1999 and Paul Lawrie's Open.

He will have to get past Woods and DiMarco first, not to mention hold off the challenge of Vijay Singh, at four under, and Mickleson, at three under, who will not yet have given up hope of successfully defending his title. All prayers look lost for Ernie Els, meanwhile, as the South African struggles after scraping inside a cut that took with it not only Jack Nicklaus, for probably, the last time, but also Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Lee Westwood.

There was little danger of Luke Donald heading home after he held the overnight lead at five under, but an ugly second-round 77 left the 27-year-old repairing wounds as he crept back to three under after the 15th.

David Howell, England's other overnight hero, had appeared to have stuck in there as he completed his second round at three under, but his "reward" was a Saturday primetime pairing with Woods. Walking with a Tiger can be disconcerting at any time. But in this mood? Howell was wise to tiptoe down the first, but still took double-bogey. The 29-year-old managed to claw it back to two under and a dream finish was still in the offing.

It was a joyous ending to a day that began with the packed galleries whispering about an incident that rocked the gentleman's game to its ancient foundations the previous night.

Indeed, Don King might very well have coined it "The Shocker By The Locker", although Augusta did not really need the grandfather of hype to blow up a showdown that already had caused enough of a frenzy. Mickelson squaring up to Singh would have been a big story wherever it happened. But in the hallowed confines of Augusta's Champions Locker room? Imagine, Gauguin and Van Gogh slugging it out in the Louvre and you would just about approximate the racket being made amongst the green jackets yesterday.

Fortunately it never quite descended to blows, although it was a close thing as the southpaw confronted the Fijian over allegations that Mickelson's spikes were so long they were leaving indentations all over the greens. After Singh told a referee he thought Mickelson was to blame for the marks on the 12th green, the order was issued to approach the defending champion on the next fairway.

"On the 13th hole two officials, sent by Vijay, checked my spikes because he felt they were unduly damaging the greens," Mickelson said in a statement. "If that's the case, I am very apologetic and will make every effort to tap down what spike marks I may make in the future. However, I was extremely distracted and would have appreciated it if it would have been handled differently or after the round."

Mickelson's 8mm "cleats" were cleared, although he did decide to handle it differently himself after the round anyway.

"Sitting in the locker room, I heard Vijay talk to other players about it and I confronted him," said the 33-year-old. "He expressed his concerns. I expressed my disappointment with the way it was handled. I believe everything is fine now." Some hope.

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