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THRILL OF CHASE BUOYS DIMARCO

Don't feel sorry for Chris DiMarco. Don't feel sorry for him in the least. The man who finished second feels no sorrow for himself.

You could argue the Masters owed him one. Heck, you could argue the Masters owed him two. But in DiMarco's enlightened world there's only one question he need answer: Did his play accurately reflect the scope of his talent? So long as he can answer in the affirmative, he'll accept the results and acquiesce to the vagaries of the game.

You can't do any more than that in golf, DiMarco will tell you. You can't tighten up your defense, make a steal, intercept a pass. There's no going box-and-one in an effort to knock the world's pre-eminent player off his game, to stop him from making a 15-footer to secure victory on the 73rd hole at Augusta National.

"I went out and shot 68 around here on Sunday, which is a very good round, and 12 under (overall) is usually good enough to win," DiMarco said. "I would let it hurt if I gave it away, but I didn't. I really didn't. I just was playing against Tiger Woods."

DiMarco entered the interview room with his head held high, with a smile on his face, in such jolly good humor you would have sworn it was him wearing the green jacket. He poked fun at himself, laughed at the dizzying disparity in distance between his piddling tee shots and the prodigious drives unleashed by the giant he was chasing.

"My goodness, he outdrove me 80 yards on No. 1," DiMarco said. "He had 65 yards to the hole, and I hit 7-iron in there."

He spoke of the thrill of the journey, drooled over the 11 1/2 riveting hours from when he struck his first shot in the rising sun to when the tournament was decided in the fast-waning twilight. By the end you didn't want to walk in his shoes. You wished you could live in his even-tempered, life-loving skin.

DiMarco had figured to be the day's footnote, just as he was last year in doing a fast fade out of contention while playing in the final Masters pairing. He'd seen a four-shot lead vanish in a blink Sunday when the third round resumed in the morning. He stepped to the first tee in the afternoon three shots back and was cast as no more than the tag along witness to Tiger's latest assault on history.

"I went home and changed my shirt because that one was no good," DiMarco said. "I went back to the black shoes instead of the white and tan, changed my belt, changed my socks, and I was like, OK . . . that's over with, let's go back."

"He's very superstitious," said his wife, Amy, and even she was smiling brightly. What, is this family made of sugar?

No one locks eyes with Woods when he carries a lead into the final round of a tournament. No one takes his one-two punch, a birdie-birdie start on the final 18, then digs in and dares him to swing yet again. Woods has never lost a major he's led after 54 holes. He's never lost a tourney when entering the final round leading by more than two. Throw in the momentum of his third-round 65, spice it with DiMarco's erratic 74, and the final 18 had the one-sided feel of Godzilla versus Gumby.

But DiMarco wouldn't go away, refused to kiss Tiger's ring. He lingered, countered, was primed to take the lead until Woods chipped in on 16. DiMarco rimmed out a chip on 18 that had Masters Champion written all over it. He gave a similar chip a hearty run on the playoff hole, forcing Woods to make birdie or risk a trip down No. 10.

"This is such a game of a missed putt here, a missed thing there," DiMarco said. "If you go back to two really big points in the whole day, it was his chip-in on 16 and my chip on 18 (that) had every right to go in the hole. I don't know how it didn't go in. So if those two are turned, it's the other way around."

And for that he's supposed to beat himself to a pulp, kick the dog, bark at the kids?

"You know, I played him as hard as I could down the stretch, birdieing a bunch of holes coming in on the back nine and putting it on him, really," DiMarco said. "If this was my back nine yesterday or this morning, and then I went out and shot 41 this afternoon, I would be very disappointed. But since I put that behind me and went out and put a good number on the back nine, I feel very good. You know, obviously it was a good show for everybody, I think."

A good show? This was the game's "Lion King." Its "Phantom." They say nothing in golf's more dramatic than the back nine on Sunday at the Masters. But they're wrong. Nothing's more stirring than the back nine times two and a ninth.

"I told my caddie walking on 18, I said, 'If you're not having fun doing this, boy, something's wrong with you,' " DiMarco said. "That was about as much fun as I've had in a day. I was throwing up on myself all day, but it was about as much fun as I've ever had."

Someone has to clone this man.
e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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