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DiMarco leads, Woods second



Published: Sat, April 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- Chris DiMarco thought he had the best seat at Augusta National last year when he played in the final group and watched Phil Mickelson win the Masters. The view was even better Saturday.

DiMarco played 26 holes without a bogey, building a four-shot lead after the rain-delayed second round, then pressing ahead with more solid play to keep his distance from hard-charging Tiger Woods.

Despite all the rain and muck, and confusion when the third round was delayed 20 minutes by a computer glitch, the Masters finally came to life.

DiMarco blocked out the raucous cheers for Woods, matching as many birdies as he could to reach 13-under par when his long day ended after nine holes.

Woods blisters front nine

Woods brought the gallery to its feet with an assortment of shots that stopped close to the hole. He shot 31 on the front nine and was at 9-under. And after a first round filled with bad breaks, Woods got one in his favor at the end of the day. His ball was caked with mud when the siren sounded, so he marked his position in the 10th fairway, allowing him to start Sunday with a clean ball.

Thomas Bjorn was at 8-under, and no one else was close.

Vijay Singh and a pair of Australians, Rod Pampling and Mark Hensby, were at 4-under. Mickelson was another shot behind -- but 10 shots behind DiMarco.

The Masters usually doesn't begin until the back nine Sunday afternoon. This time, it will start this morning. The third round was to resume at 8 a.m.

"I kind of wish we could play some more, but that's OK," DiMarco said.

Right when Woods started to make his move, DiMarco answered with a slick 10-footer for birdie on the seventh, and another 10-foot birdie on the eighth. He played smartly, taking chances only when they were there.

"If Chris keeps playing the way he is, he's going to be very difficult to catch," Bjorn said. "It's fine golf."

Bjorn, however, is a friend of Woods and has seen some of his best golf. He saw plenty of it on the front nine Saturday playing in the group behind him.

"Tiger is Tiger," Bjorn said. "When he gets on these kind of runs, you never know what's going to happen."

DiMarco must feel like it's his time.

Consistently close

He keeps putting himself in contention at the Masters -- the second round was his fifth time atop the leaderboard in the last four years. He lost in a playoff in the last major he played, the PGA Championship in August.

Woods, who has gone 10 majors without winning, looked like an eight-time major winner as he started chipping away at a six-shot deficit. DiMarco refused to blink, hitting fairways and greens, gritting his teeth with every putt he made.

"I kept telling myself I was hitting good shots, but nothing happened," Woods said. "Just hang in there, and keep hitting quality shots and it will turn. Luckily, it turned."

DiMarco only has three PGA Tour victories, none particularly memorable. But he has raised his game at the majors, particularly at Augusta National. When his birdie putt on the 18th stayed just short of the hole, DiMarco had a 67 and the 36-hole lead at the Masters for the second time in four years.

He had a two-shot lead in 2001 and crumbled playing with Woods.

Comfortable lead

DiMarco gave himself a bigger cushion Saturday, and only two closing birdies by Bjorn kept him from setting a Masters record for the largest halfway lead -- five shots by three players, all of whom went on to win.

DiMarco kept a comfortable cushion for most of the second round, then poured it on. He was just over the green on the par-5 15th in two and eased the slick putt down to 3 feet for birdie. Then came a 7-iron below the hole to 12 feet, kicking back his left leg as that dropped for birdie.

The ovations got louder as he walked off every tee, his lead stretching with every birdie.

First major contention

Bjorn got himself into contention at a major for the first time since his bunker gaffes cost him the British Open two years ago at Royal St. Georges. He became the ninth player to eagle both par 5s on the back nine, and his two birdies at the end gave him a 67.

The cut was at 4-over 148, and led to an early departure for Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and David Toms.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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