Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Chris DiMarco's enthusiasm will be as crucial as his experience. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiMarco rides a late return to form all the way to Ireland

With strong showings in the last Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, Chris DiMarco established himself as an U.S. stalwart. But until he bounced back from a skiing accident with a strong British Open, his spot this week was in doubt.

September 17, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland (PA) -- Chris DiMarco had the experience, the ability and the tenacity, but did he have the form?

That was a question Tom Lehman thought he might have to ask himself in weighing up his two wild cards for the K Club.

Then along came the British Open, and DiMarco did not just answer the question for Lehman. He virtually removed the need for the question.

By finishing second to Tiger Woods -- after mounting the only sustained challenge to the world No. 1 on the final day -- the American Presidents Cup hero all but guaranteed himself the chance to be a Ryder Cup hero as well.

"If you can't get up playing the best player in the world in a major, I don't know what else there is," DiMarco said. "It pumps me up. Tiger said that being in contention in a major is like a drug. It is. It's so awesome to be playing well and performing well when everything is on the line."

He had at last showed -- not least to Lehman -- that the injury suffered on a skiing break his captain did not want him to take was no longer a factor.

As he departed Liverpool, DiMarco's record still showed that he had not lifted a PGA Tour title for over four years and had tasted victory on the circuit only three times in well over 300 starts. But he had now been a runner-up in three of the last eight major championships, the previous two after playoffs won by Vijay Singh and Woods and the first of them catapulting him to a Ryder Cup debut in Detroit.

DiMarco was, of course, part of a team crushed by a record-breaking margin at Oakland Hills two years ago. But as well as being the American who was pumped-up the most, he was the only one of the 12 to come out of the contest in credit.

After being left out of the opening series, he picked up two wins and one half in his four matches to be his side's top-scorer, albeit with a tally that would have put him just sixth on the European points table.

DiMarco had veteran Jay Haas as his partner that week, but for last September's Presidents Cup he was immediately put alongside Phil Mickelson by Captain Jack Nicklaus.

To say it worked better than Mickelson's partnership with Woods is an understatement. They gleaned three and a half points out of four and, given the anchor role in the final day singles, DiMarco came up with the all-important putt on the last green to beat Stuart Appleby.

So he was his country's leading scorer again -- and at that very moment, Lehman must have marked him down to play with Mickelson again in Ireland.

"I know how competitive I am," he said earlier this year. "I know that it's going to be hard to play somebody as competitive as me. There might be guys that are better than me, but as far as competitiveness and never giving up and always fighting and clawing I don't think there's too many guys that have that.

"I love match play. I don't know why. It's you versus that person. It doesn't matter how anybody [else] is doing," he added. "And I feel like if you can put the pressure on, it gets them out of their game. That's what I try to do."

All was going well at that point. He had just come back from winning on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi. The Ryder Cup dates were in his diary. Then came the skiing mishap.

"Last run, last day, going to pick the kids up," he said. "Some guys came out of the trees and the only way I could avoid them was to go down, but one of the things in my backpack gave me a kidney punch."

On his return home, DiMarco could barely walk and pulled out of the Players Championship. He did return the following week, but it was not until the British Open that he gave the performance he was looking for.

Copyright 2006 PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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