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SHORTLY AFTER Rod Pampling dropped an eagle putt from just off the 17th green to leapfrog two players and take the lead at the International, his playing partner, Chris DiMarco, missed a seven-footer for birdie at 18. At first glance DiMarco?s putt didn?t seem nearly as interesting or important as Pampling?s, but it was a key moment in one of the International?s most enticing subplots--the race to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
While Pampling went on to win the tournament with a par on 18, a dejected DiMarco walked off the course toward the locker room. As he did, someone said, ?Chris, you played great the first two days.? To which the 35-year-old DiMarco shot back, ?And I sucked the last two days.? Even for DiMarco there was no hiding from that truth, especially considering that Pampling won with only 31 points--the same total DiMarco had after two rounds.
DiMarco?s lead was so commanding on Friday--Pampling held second place at 22 points--that he joked about not even having to play the 18th on Sunday. ?That?s my goal,? he said, ?to have enough points when I finish 17 to walk right in.? Having started the week 19th in Ryder Cup points, DiMarco knew that a top three finish would get him into the top 10 of the standings and a win would virtually lock up a spot on the team, which he describes as ?one of my biggest goals of the year.?
Everything had changed by Sunday evening. ?To be so on top of everything and have complete control of my game and then for it to go totally south,? DiMarco said, ?I?ve never had a tournament like that. Normally when I?m playing good, I keep playing good. Maybe having that big a lead after two days took me out of my element.?
It doesn?t help that DiMarco, a member of last year?s Presidents Cup team, has known Ryder Cup disappointment before. In 2001 he finished 13th in the standings but was passed over by Curtis Strange, who used his captain?s picks on Scott Verplank and Paul Azinger. ?I was steamed at myself [for not qualifying on points],? says DiMarco. ?I wasn?t steamed at Curtis.?
All of which brings us back to DiMarco?s seven-footer on 18. Had he made it, he would?ve gone from a tie for sixth to a tie for fourth. Instead of picking up 40 Ryder Cup points, he would have earned 65. More important, he would have jumped ahead of two other Cup contenders: Jay Haas, who ended up in fifth and moved to 10th in the standings, and Stewart Cink, who also tied for sixth and moved to 12th. DiMarco rose to 15th, but if he had made that final putt he would?ve wound up 11th.
Afterward DiMarco couldn?t help but reflect on the missed opportunity. ?I was definitely pressing,? he said. ?I hate to say that, but I was. To have that lead and then not come through is a little disappointing.?