Originally created 04/07/01

DiMarco keeps lead as others close in



There was no shaking the resolve or shotmaking of Chris DiMarco in Friday's round of the 65th Masters Tournament.

Not even the sight of Tiger Woods' name rocketing up the leaderboard could slow down the man with the odd putting grip.

DiMarco showed amazing staying power for a Masters rookie, shooting 3-under 69 at the Augusta National Golf Club and increasing his lead from one shot after the first round to two after 36. Woods and Phil Mickelson are tied for second place.

DiMarco, of Orlando, Fla., can make some history with a victory this week. He would be just the fourth player to win the Masters in his first appearance, joining Horton Smith (1934), Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979).

Woods is trying to write a new page in the golf history books. He's seeking to become the first golfer to hold all four major championship titles at the same time.

"The bottom line is he's got to play the course, too, and he's got a lot going this week also," DiMarco said of Woods.

The 32-year-old DiMarco is at 10-under-par 134 for the championship, a record total for a Masters rookie. At this rate, Woods' tournament record of 18-under-par could fall, but don't count on it.

The wind is expected to make its first appearance of the week at Augusta National starting today. With a forecast of 12-15 mph winds, the greens will get firmer, and scoring will get more difficult.

Woods and Mickelson, the top two players on the PGA Tour, are hot on DiMarco's heels.

Woods, who is 15-under par for his past four rounds in the Masters, matched the day's low score Friday with a 66 that featured eight birdies and two bogeys.

It's still not the low score of the tournament. That belongs to DiMarco and his opening 65. Mickelson had a 69 Friday that featured just 25 putts.

Five players are three shots off the lead, including David Duval, who hasn't finished higher than sixth in the past three Masters.

"I came in here with every intention of winning the golf tournament, and I still have that," Duval said. "I'm excited about my prospects."

Duval, who has shot 71-66, is joined at 137 by Steve Stricker (71 Friday), Lee Janzen (70), Argentina's Angel Cabrera (71) and Japan's Toshi Izawa (66), another Masters rookie.

Defending champion Vijay Singh is six shots back after rounds of 69-71-140.

"I'm a little disappointed with my round - 71 could have been a lot better," Singh said. "The weekend is a different story. Hopefully, the wind will get up a little bit and the course will play the way it normally does, with faster greens. We'll see what happens."

The No. 1-ranked Woods has won 11 times in the past 15 months, including his last two starts. Mickelson, ranked No. 2 in the world, has won five times in the past 14 months. Combined, they have 44 career victories.

They're chasing DiMarco, who is ranked 58th in the world and has one career victory, the 2000 Pennsylvania Classic. DiMarco is 34th on the PGA Tour money list, with $440,654. Woods leads the money list with $2,255,857.

"I believe in me," said DiMarco, who has played on the PGA Tour at different times for a total of six years. "I've just got to prove to everybody here they should believe in me. That's my goal the next two days. To go out today as the leader and go do it again is big. It's huge for my confidence."

This is only DiMarco's eighth major championship appearance. His best finish is a tie for 15th in the 2000 PGA Championship.

The 25-year-old Woods has five major championships while Mickelson, 30, is winless in 34 major championship appearances.

"If you haven't been there," Woods said, referring to the heat of the battle for a major championship, "it's tough. I was very fortunate that when I won my first major (the 1997 Masters, by 12 shots) I happened to play great and separate myself, so it was a different feeling."

Woods, who jumped from a tie for 15th after a first-round 70 to a tie for second after his second round, is playing the kind of golf that has made him the pre-tournament favorite anywhere he goes.

Through two rounds, he leads the field in average driving (306 yards) and is tied for first in greens in regulation (31 of 36). He hasn't putted to his standards, needing 62 putts for two rounds.

In contrast, Mickelson leads the field in putting with just 51 putts. DiMarco is tied for second place in putting, with 52 putts.

For those who thought DiMarco's game would go south with the glare of the national sports world in his face, they were mistaken. After an opening bogey Friday, he never had another. He had four birdies in a 27-putt round.

"We were eating lunch before the round today and laughing because some guy wrote a letter to the editor in the paper that said it's the history of the Masters to have a first-round leader you never heard of, so take a good look at Chris DiMarco because you won't see him anymore," said Franklin Langham, one of DiMarco's best friends on the PGA Tour. "I think it might have fired him up a bit. He's a great player. He wouldn't be here if he wasn't."

DiMarco was aware that the previous two first-round leaders of the Masters were tournament rookies who faded in the second round. Brandel Chamblee, one of four leaders in 1999, went from an opening 69 to 73. And Dennis Paulson, the solo leader in 2000, followed a 68 with a 76.

"I read a lot of articles today, and they said that Dennis Paulson and Brandel Chamblee shot in the 60s in the first round and never shot in the 60s again," DiMarco said. "That's why the (par-saving) putt on No. 18 was big. I wanted to put it in the 60s today."

Scoring was even lower Friday than Thursday, thanks to the mild weather and soft greens. Forty-seven players shot under par, just seven off the record set in 1992. The scoring average Friday was 72.670, compared with 73.160 on Thursday. There were 73 sub-par rounds for the 36 holes.

The cut fell at 1-over-par 145, three shots lower than 2000. It was the lowest cut, tying the score in 1979, 1992 and 1995. Forty-seven of the 93 starters made the cut, 10 fewer than last year. Among those who didn't were amateur James Driscoll (68-78), Davis Love III (71-75), Joe Durant (73-74), Jack Nicklaus (73-75), Larry Mize (74-74), Tom Watson (78-70), Colin Montgomerie (73-76) and Greg Norman (71-82).

Also heading down the road was Nick Price, the world's No. 15th-ranked player who continued his stormy relationship with the Augusta National. Though he is the co-owner of the 18-hole scoring record at 63, Price missed the cut for the second time in the past four years. He shot 73-75.

"This golf course has my number," said Price. "I remember Gary Player saying a couple of years ago that if there was a golf course in heaven, this is the one he'd like to own. I love every thing about this place, but this golf course, if I played it every day, it would be as close to hell as I could find."

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851.