Chris DiMarco hits to the fifth hole during third-round play. DiMarco leads at 13-under par.
DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP Enlarge
AUGUSTA, Ga. - Chris DiMarco has been rising to the occasion. The big occasions, at least.
But today will likely be as big as it gets.
DiMarco has a four-shot lead in the Masters, but 27 holes are still ahead and Tiger Woods, coming off a remarkable day at Augusta National Golf Club, is nipping at his heels.
With a third straight round suspended, this time because of darkness, Woods finished with his 12th birdie of the day at No. 9 to reach 9-under par.
The three-time Masters champion played 26 holes - 17 to complete second-round play, then the front nine of his third round - in 11-under.
DiMarco played 27 holes, stretched his streak of holes without a bogey to 44, and rested at 13-under for the tournament.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark is in third place at 8-under, also through nine holes of the third round.
"You've got guys around you making it happen and this is where you want to be," Bjorn said. "If Chris keeps playing the way he is, just fine golf, he's going to be very difficult to catch. That goes for everybody, including Tiger.
"But you have to take your hat off to [Woods]. To be six off and go out and produce like that on the front nine is awfully impressive. It's what he's capable of doing. When he plays like that you just have to enjoy watching him."
Impressive may have been putting it mildly. Woods was 4-under to DiMarco's minus-10 when second-round play was finally concluded at mid-day.
"I kept telling myself I was hitting good golf shots, it was just that nothing was happening," Woods said. "Either I'd mess up or get a bad break. So I just kept hitting quality golf shots and luckily it turned. All of a sudden I started making putts. The momentum got on my side and I kept making putts."
He birdied 10 of the last 19 holes he played. After finishing off a second-round 66, Tiger birdied five holes on the front nine after beginning third-round play. He finished with three straight.
"The golf course wasn't playing as difficult today as it normally does," Woods said. "A lot of pins were in the low points of the bowls and you could be aggressive and the ball would feed to the hole. Everybody's making birdies out there."
That certainly included DiMarco, who completed a second straight 67 to get to 10-under before shooting a 3-under 33 on the first nine holes of his third round.
He may not be the longest or the straightest, but his putter has been red hot. He had six one-putts and used a total of just 12 putts during the nine holes of third-round play that he completed.
"I have to keep attacking, especially with Tiger behind me," DiMarco said. "I'm hitting the ball well and putting very well. I just have to stay aggressive and take advantage of my birdie opportunities. I'm happy anytime I have a lead. It's going to be fun. A lot of great players are behind me trying to win, too. I'll have to keep my foot on the accelerator.
"I did that today. Tiger's going to shoot his numbers. That's fine. He shot 31 on the front. You expect that. I shot 33, so I had a good nine myself. If I go around and make a few birdies on the back, I'll be fine."
DiMarco does not shy away from the spotlight. He was in a playoff at last year's PGA Championship, and then led the U.S. Ryder Cup team in points scored during its lopsided loss to Europe last fall at Oakland Hills.
Plus, he's no stranger to the pressures of Augusta and this would seem to be as good a place as any for him to win his first major championship.
The three-time PGA Tour winner was the leader after 18 and 36 holes in his very first Masters in 2001. He was the co-leader after 54 holes a year ago, but shot 76 and was merely along for the ride as Phil Mickelson pulled off his fantastic finish.
"I learned from that," DiMarco said. "I watched how it was done. I watched how it was won. I had the best seat in the house.
"Phil had fun. That's what he did. He was laughing, he was pumped up, he was getting the people involved, and he was aggressive. That's what you have to do around here. The winner always shoots a good number on the back nine. Going out and trying to hold onto a lead is not going to get it done. I know that."
Eighteen holes on a Sunday as the Masters' leader is grueling enough. But DiMarco feels the 27-hole day might actually play to his advantage.
"The good thing is I'll get a good feel for how I'm doing early," he said. "I'll get a feel for the back nine. And I won't have to sit around for seven hours like last year waiting to play. I'm a Type A personality, so that was tough for me."
There were 44 players who did not finish third-round play. They'll all have to be early risers today with the third round scheduled to resume at 8 a.m. The final round is expected to start at 11 a.m. After the lead trio, there is a four-stroke dip to 4-under. Rod Pampling completed 12 holes, No. 1-ranked Vijay Singh played 10 holes and Mark Hensby was through nine.
Chad Campbell was one of six players who completed the third round and, technically, was the leader in the clubhouse at 3-under after a round of 67. Still on the course at 3-under were Luke Donald, Tim Herron and Trevor Immelman.