DiMarco finds major appetite knows no bounds

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The Independent Online

We might have cause to curse him in September but yesterday Chris DiMarco qualified as a local hero as he helped to lead the peloton's attack that cut down Tiger Woods' lead to a slender one.

In the Ryder Cup, DiMarco is sure to be a feisty opponent, keenest of all the American invaders, but he was available to be admired as a neutral fighting force as he blazed his way back from a faltering front nine to share second place at 12 under par.

His 65 on Friday alerted Hoylake to his ability and the man whose putting grip is called "the claw" ­ he looks as if he is going to put a vacuum cleaner over the green ­ confirmed his right to be regarded a genuine contender to gain revenge on the man who beat him in a play-off in last year's Masters.

Not that his target is Tiger particularly. "There's nothing extra in beating Tiger, there's at least five or six others you also need to beat. This is an awesome leaderboard," he said.

What about Tiger's record of never losing once he gets his head in front in a major? "You media are more bothered about that than we are. With the lead he had this morning you would have thought he would be three or four ahead going into tomorrow.

"But he isn't and we all face 18 really hard holes in the final round. The course is firming up and some of the pin positions were almost impossible today and probably will be tomorrow. It is going to be a fun day."

Following the death of his mother earlier in the month, there was some doubt whether DiMarco would appear. Not in his mind, however.

"This has been great therapy for me and my father. And I've no doubt that there was divine intervention out there today. My mother's name was Norma and our lady scorer was called Norma. I have only met five Normas in my life. How strange was that?"

Even the most powerful divinity would have found it hard to rescue DiMarco from a front nine short of promise. A course that has proved so adept at snatching shots off the unsuspecting, ambushed him and his South African playing partner, Retief Goosen, alike.

But the back half showed every gleam of his steely approach as he gained four shots in seven holes. It was not a passionate display. He did it by steady ironing off the tee. A couple of times he utilised the services of a fairway wood but he adhered faithfully to a gameplan not unlike Tiger's and intends to do the same today.

He and Goosen had an uncomfortable place on the day's menu. The main course of Woods and Ernie Els looked so tasty that it dominated the Hoylake appetite. And with Sergio Garcia and Jim Furyk ensuring that the hors d'oeuvres had plenty of bite, their position as a flat-fish course did not tempt the palate.

Goosen had birdied the third with DiMarco but suffered calamity at the next two holes. On the fourth, his tee shot zipped into a fairway bunker with a steep lateral bank and he pondered for an age whether to risk a shot to the green or a guarded splash-out. Caution won in the end and he took three more to get down. On the fifth, Goosen reached for his driver off the tee and was fortunate to find his ball in thick gorse and lucky to get away with just one dropped shot.

It was then DiMarco's turn to drop a couple and it said much for his famed fighting spirit that he slowly clawed his way back up the leaderboard.

If his name was Dai Marco we could have claimed him for Wales but DiMarco is solidly New York Italian, although his attendance at the University of Florida has won him over to being a dweller in the sunshine state.

One of the qualities that marks him out as unusual among American pros is that he regards representing his country as more important than individual honours. While the others like to march to the sound of their own drum, he is stirred by the presence of the Stars and Stripes on his breast pocket.

And the thought of playing for the US in the Ryder Cup in Ireland in September has been as much an incentive as bidding for personal glory here at Hoylake. The American captain, Tom Lehman, has long been aware of the importance of having such passion beating at the heart of a team not renowned for their selfless patriotism.

The problem is that DiMarco is currently lying 21st in the US Ryder Cup points table and facing a monstrous leap up the earnings ladder if he is to qualify in his own right.

But Lehman has said that what he brings to a team is invaluable and has him down as a wild-card choice. He proved his worth in the President's Cup last autumn. This match between the US and the Rest of the World lacks the historic needle of the Ryder variety but DiMarco's partnership with Phil Mickelson proved the winning combination. But the qualities that earn him so many admirers have not led to conspicuous success in tournament play.

He has the dubious distinction of losing back-to-back play-offs in majors. Before losing to Woods last year he had lost in the same way to Vijay Singh in the US PGA in August 2004. He is back knocking at the door.