The excitable DiMarco arrived at Grand Blanc even edgier than usual, still wound up after having kicked away a golden chance at a victory—and a pile of Ryder Cup points—the week before at the International. (After eagleing the 8th hole at Castle Pines, DiMarco held a four-point lead, but he made four bogeys and a pair of doubles on the way in.) DiMarco is aware of his station in golf and eager to claw his way into the ranks of the elite. He had a breakthrough year in 2000, winning his first tournament, the Pennsylvania Classic, and finishing 19th on the money list. This year he was the 36-hole leader at the Masters, and only three players on Tour have made more birdies.
Yet at the Buick he was still channeling Rodney Dangerfield. "Every time they show the Ryder Cup standings on TV, they're not showing me," DiMarco said last Saturday, after his third straight bogeyless round. "They're stopping at 15th place. It's as if I don't have a chance. I feel as if they're disrespecting me, and I'm using that as fuel."
Early on Sunday it looked as if DiMarco was on the verge of running out of gas. Trying to reach the par-5 7th with a driver off the deck, he pushed his second shot into the trees and from there made his first bogey of the tournament. However, instead of backing off, DiMarco attacked with renewed vigor and was rewarded with a back-nine 30, the kind of performance that is becoming routine for this explosive, all-around talent. "It was a pressure-packed week," DiMarco said following the round. "With what happened last Sunday, with the Ryder Cup situation, I proved something to myself this week. Hopefully I proved something to some other people, too."
No doubt Captain Strange got the message, for he's no stranger to using the media to make a point to his potential players. Recently he sent a little pep talk in the direction of Justin Leonard, the hero of Brookline who is languishing at 23rd in the standings. "People assume that Justin is automatically going to be on the team," Strange told reporters, "and that is obviously not the case."
Last week Leonard blew off the dig. "I haven't talked much with Curtis, but I don't need to," said Leonard. "I know what I need to do, and he knows I know, and I know that he knows."
On Friday, Leonard began to do what he needed to do, striking the ball, he says, "as well as I have all year from tee to green." Considering that he hit 13 fairways and 17 greens, a 68 was about the worst Leonard could have shot. On Saturday he continued to play with authority and, with only 24 putts, shot a 63 to storm into a tie for third and raise the possibility of a points bonanza. Said Leonard afterward, "Did I think about the Ryder Cup during the round? Absolutely. It's a big motivating tool. I'm sure I will think about it tonight. The Ryder Cup is in the back of everyone's mind."
Maybe Leonard should have been thinking a little more about Warwick Hills on Sunday. His long game all but deserted him, and he huffed and puffed his way to a 70. No one in the top 19 had a worse score, and the meek finish doomed him to a four-way tie for 10th, worth a measly 2.5 Ryder Cup points. Leonard is still stuck in 23rd place, with 376.250 points. He also needs to finish no worse than second at the PGA to have a prayer of cracking the top 10, and that could represent his only chance of making the team. Notwithstanding one remarkable 45-foot putt, Leonard has been shaky at best in two previous cup appearances, amassing an 0-3-5 record. "I'm going to go to the PGA and try to win another major championship, and if I make the Ryder Cup team as a result, that will be wonderful," said Leonard. "No matter what I do, Curtis has a tough decision. Maybe I can get in there and make it tougher."
Funny thing about this Buick Open, while everyone else was obsessing over the Ryder Cup, Perry quietly went about the business of winning the tournament. He took control during the middle rounds with back-to-back 64s, highlighted by a 29 on the front side on Friday and another 29 on Saturday's back nine, which stretched his lead to five strokes. Clutch birdies at 14 and 16 on Sunday sealed the deal. So what was the secret to Perry's fourth career victory? "I didn't think about the Ryder Cup once this week," he said. "It never even entered my mind."