Originally created 09/24/05

DiMarco's heroics have pumped up team, gallery



GAINESVILLE, Va. -- American golf is hungry for heroes, and it might have finally found one.

He has the heart. He has the fire. He has what it takes to come through under pressure.

Chris DiMarco is shaping up to be everybody's all-American.

Yes, the guy who ranks 147th on the PGA Tour in driving distance. The guy with only three career wins. The guy who failed to win twice in the past two final pairings at the Masters Tournament.

If anyone still believes apathy and fear are the two biggest components in the United States' failures to win these annual international team matches, DiMarco is the most obvious antidote.

"He is unbelievable," said Phil Mickelson, who has already generated more points in two matches with DiMarco this week than he had in his previous two Presidents and Ryder Cups combined. "He's one of the toughest guys we have on the tour. I'm proud that he's on the American side , and I'm proud to have him as my partner."

DiMarco nearly blushed at the praise.

"It means a lot to have somebody like Phil say that about me," DiMarco said. "We don't like to lose, I can tell you that much. I never like to lose."

DiMarco and Mickelson rallied from two down with four holes to play to halve their match with Angel Cabrera, of Argentina, and Michael Campbell, of New Zealand. Mickelson didn't mince words about who deserved the credit.

"The last hour-and-a-half has been a Chris DiMarco lovefest," Mickelson said. "He came through with such clutch play and birdies on 15 and 17 to take a match that looked like it was going to go the other way and get a halve out of it."

DiMarco's grittiness is an inspiration. He and Mickelson had requested to take the lead better-ball match against one of the toughest International teams, and DiMarco refused to disappoint.

After a 6-foot birdie putt U-turned on him at the par-3 14th, DiMarco didn't stagger. From 119 yards in a fairway bunker on No. 15, DiMarco stuffed it to 6 inches for the win. Then after an 80-minute rain delay, he knocked his ball out of the rough from 109 yards to 10 feet and coolly drained the putt that pulled the Americans square.

Fist pumps on both birdies stirred up the partisan galleries.

DiMarco feeds off the pressure of team competition and the energy created by the galleries.

"It's contagious," he said. "We hear cheers and go, 'That's an American cheer,' and it pumps you up."

DiMarco displays the kind of raw emotion for team play that doesn't always come naturally to superstars such as Mickelson or Davis Love III.

"He's a great guy for us all to count on," U.S. teammate Stewart Cink said. "He loves this situation. He's got great heart. He's like a point guard in basketball who wants the ball all the time."

To think that it was only a year ago when DiMarco was the last man any U.S. captain wanted on his squad. He wasn't considered international team material, a choker whose game couldn't hold up under extreme pressure.

DiMarco knew last August if he didn't make the Ryder Cup team on points that he would never been one of Hal Sutton's captains picks. His runner-up finish at the PGA Championship rallied him from 15th to eighth in the Ryder Cup standings.

"I know that all of you guys (in the media) never mentioned me the whole week," he said of the Ryder Cup speculation. "So you guys were my motivation for sure."

DiMarco turned out to be the emotional linchpin in a losing American cause last year at Oak Hill. He led the U.S. team with 2½ points, as many as Tiger Woods and Mickelson combined.

Mickelson said it's grit that makes DiMarco so dangerous. It's the same grit that made him one of the most popular runner-ups in Masters history when he nearly became the first player to ever rally on the final day to beat Woods in a major.

"You're not going to play your best every round, and when Chris is not playing his best, he fights," said Mickelson, who played with DiMarco in the final pairing of the 2004 Masters. "Even though he's down and trailing, he fights until he gets shots going his way."

DiMarco and Mickelson have found that chemistry that is often lacking from American teammates.

That chemistry and heart likely will make DiMarco a quick choice for any future captain hoping to draft a hero.

DiMarco can be that hero. The U.S. team is lucky to have him.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.