'That' chip-in and battling Tiger Woods in his pomp - Chris DiMarco remembers the 2005 Masters

By Peter Hanson 10 April 2020 35
'That' chip-in and battling Tiger Woods in his pomp - Chris DiMarco remembers the 2005 Masters

"Oh my goodness … Oh WOW! In your life have you seen anything like that?"

The excitable exclamation of legendary announcer Verne Lundquist has gone down in golfing folklore almost as much as the scarcely believable shot that left millions watching around the world gaping in utter disbelief.

His next words were deliberately a little more understated: "This guy's pretty good."

There was no sign of what was to come. Tiger Woods, who had already seen what was at one stage a four-shot lead on this fateful Masters Sunday eviscerated to just a solitary stroke, smacked an iron off the 16th tee beyond the green. He stood, hunched, with that trademark steely look of determination over his ball, which was pitched around 20 feet above the hole. It trickled down with almost excruciating slowness, perched precariously on the cusp and then…"Oh WOW!". You know the rest.

One ultimately luckless man had the best vantage point for one of the greatest shots of all time.

"The funny thing was I was over my ball ready to hit [on the 15th] and Trevor Immelman in the group in front of me makes a hole-in-one on 16 and the place goes ballistic," Chris DiMarco recalled in an interview with Stats Perform.

"I kind of sit back there for a good five minutes and wait for the crowd to settle down for him. A shot like that energises you anyway, I could almost see his shot going in the hole and I was able to kind of step back and let my nerves kind of resist a little bit and hit a great shot in there to about four feet, and he [Woods] two-putted and I made birdie. So, it's still one down going into 16 and I had the honours because I had birdied 14 and 15. 

"I hit the exact shot you're meant to hit on 16, I hit a seven iron to the right – it kind of hit and dug a little bit because it was wet, if it would have hit and got maybe a yard or two of bounce release it would have come right down to the hole. But it kind of came backwards down the hill, so it left me about 15, 16 feet short.

"And then obviously we know what he did. He didn't hit the best shot he's ever hit in his life, pulled an eight iron and then obviously I had the best seat in the house sitting down there by the bunker by the lake. Me and my caddie watched him chip it up and I saw it basically just come all the way down like it was gonna be good and certainly it was obviously a pretty epic shot he hit, and it went in the hole."

It's funny how a moment like that can distort memories. Sure, the history books show Woods won a fourth green jacket and a ninth major title at the 2005 Masters.

But it barely scratches the surface of one of the most memorable major golf tournaments in history.

For context, and bear in mind this is no ordinary athlete we're talking about, Woods entered that year's Masters having failed to win on his previous 10 major attempts. A new swing, honed with a new coach in Hank Haney, and the loss of his status as the world's top-ranked golfer added to the scrutiny on a man whose every move was followed.

An opening round 74 did little to help. Meanwhile, DiMarco – who had a reputation as a fierce competitor and true battler on the PGA Tour – masterfully navigated two days of abysmal conditions, which wreaked havoc with the schedule, to post a pair of 67s and reach 10 under.

But things turned Sunday morning. DiMarco came out to play the final nine holes of a delayed third round, having reached the turn at three under, and dropped five shots on the way home. Woods found his groove and recorded seven straight birdies and, even with back-to-back dropped shots at 14 and 15, he led by three ahead of the final 18 holes.

"It happened so fast we basically got off the course really late [on Saturday], got dinner and kind of went to bed. The next thing you know it's five in the morning and we're getting up for seven o'clock in position to start. All of a sudden it was nine thirty and I went from having a two or three-shot lead to three shots behind," DiMarco continued. 

"It happened so fast that I had time thankfully that morning to kind of reflect and go over and think about what I did on basically holes 46 to 54. I didn't hit a shot I didn't like and just happened to shoot that 41. 

"That golf course you have to be pretty precise on and I was off just a little bit with my distance and it kind of came up and bit me and thankfully I had time to reflect and go back and was able to realise, 'I'm still in this, I'm still playing the best golf I can play and let's go chase him down.'"

Chase him down he did. Anyone with ideas that Woods' heroics at 16 would be the final nail in the coffin were well wide of the mark. Back-to-back bogeys forced a sudden death play-off.

It nearly didn't get that far. Woods' approach at 18 found a greenside bunker. DiMarco's chip for birdie hit the pin and rebounded 10 feet away. It was the kind of shot that can often jam in the hole.

"Absolutely [there's a feeling of what if]," DiMarco admitted. 

"It was one of those chips that 50 per cent of the time it hits the pin and goes straight down. That one just kind of hit and ran and ran by about five feet. 

"The funny thing is, it wasn't even going that hard, it kind of picked up speed by hitting the pin and it was almost like it was going to go in and a little hand came out of the hole and said, 'No, no, Tiger still needs to win this tournament.'"

Certainly, it seemed the stars were aligned for Woods in a weekend teeming with drama as DiMarco fell agonisingly short in a sudden-death play-off. 

His is a fate that befell so many of the top talents going up against Woods in his unplayable pomp. This cruellest of defeats was one of several major near misses. Just eight months prior, DiMarco suffered disappointment at the US PGA Championship, albeit on that occasion he had fought his way from five back starting the final round, as Vijay Singh won a three-way play-off at Whistling Straits.

A little over a year on from his Masters defeat, DiMarco had another runner-up finish to his name at The Open. The victor at Hoylake that year? Like you even need to ask.

Could things have been different were, in a hypothetical situation, Woods not playing at that time?

"I mean there's a lot of us that feel that way – I can tell you one thing, we certainly wouldn't have made as much money as we did," DiMarco replied with typical honesty. 

"He certainly brought the monetary factor of the game of golf to all new levels and the guys that are reaping the rewards right now – I reaped a lot of rewards from it.

"My rookie year on tour a big purse was $1.1million so where golf has come since Tiger's era, he's made it one of the coolest sports in the world and he's been – if not the greatest athlete, if not the most recognisable athlete – one of the coolest athletes to play any major sport in the last 25 years.

"He's transcended the game, no doubt about it. I mean Mr [Jack] Nicklaus, Mr [Arnold] Palmer and Mr [Gary] Player they all did it – but Tiger took it to a different level by himself, it's pretty amazing what he's done."

Indeed, for DiMarco going up against Woods at the peak of his powers was something to relish.

"I actually love the fact I got to compete against quite arguably – between him and Mr Nicklaus, you can go back and forth over who you think the greatest is – but for me to get to perform and play a lot of golf with him and do well with him, I actually took a seat back and actually watched him play this golf and was honoured to be a part of it," he replied when asked about Tiger's aura at that time.

"A lot of guys didn't like Tiger – I'm not saying PGA Tour guys – but a lot of people because he won so much.

"I always tell people, 'Sit back and enjoy this, you're probably never going to see this again, you're never going to see anything [like it].' 

"I mean 82 [PGA Tour] wins, 15 majors in this day and age is ridiculous, those are the likes you'll never see again.

"For me, being able to perform down the stretch and kind of make birdies and track him down a little bit is always something that I bring away with a lot of self-confidence."

So, 15 years on from 'that' chip-in and one of the most dramatic Masters of all time there are no regrets … but still, just what if?

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Peter Hanson

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