DiMarco blows it yet again

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

By an eyelash, Chris DiMarco did not win the Masters three weeks ago. By another eyelash, DiMarco did not win the Zurich Classic yesterday.

This time, though, he wasn't staring into the eyes of the Tiger. He was staring at a couple of guys who nearly were wetting their pants with anxiety. And still he couldn't get it done.

For the past five years, DiMarco has been a top-20 money player, a Presidents Cupper, a Ryder Cupper, a top-10 finisher in four of the past five majors. Yet he hasn't won since January 2002, finishing as runner-up six times since.

By his own reckoning, the duel at Augusta was going to send him to another level. But yesterday's lacklustre finish has to make you wonder.

"I feel like I really elevated my game and hopefully moved to a new level," DiMarco said in a conference call earlier this week, looking forward to returning to competition.

"It's like anything else in golf, the more experience you get, the more comfortable you start feeling when the pressure is on. I'm starting to kind of revel in that stuff."

Could have fooled us. Yesterday, the tournament was DiMarco's to win. He was leading by two at the turn but caved like a raw rookie.

SEVEN-YEAR ITCH

Biggest comeback of the week has to go to Ted Nolan, who finally got a job after seven years wandering as an outcast in the hockey wilderness.

In 1997, after leading the Buffalo Sabres to their first divisional title in 16 seasons, Nolan was named the NHL's coach of the year. Fired by the Sabres later that spring, he never coached at the NHL level again and only this week did he get his first significant hockey job, as head coach of the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Nolan was blackballed from the NHL, it is believed, because of the perception that he had gone to the club president behind Sabres general manager John Muckler's back in a power play against goaltender Dominik Hasek, whom Nolan felt had quit on him.

"He should have been coaching all along," said Matthew Barnaby, one of his former players contacted by the Buffalo News this week. "Anyone close to him feels like he was (cheated). Do I think it was a classic blackball? I have no idea. I think general managers were afraid. The rumours were he went above the GM. Maybe I'm naive, but I think he got a reputation that wasn't warranted."

Whatever he was off the ice, Nolan was and, presumably is still, a great hockey coach, a winner at every level.

That fact that he is back in the game only can be considered good news for a game that needs some good news.

NEW THEME AT OLD COURSE

The male-dominated golf establishment may grump and harrumph about Michelle Wie's determination to compete at the top levels of the men's game but, in the end, it all will be about money. And that means Wie and anyone else of her gender who can play a little bit will get their chance.

Clair Peterson, tournament director of the John Deere Classic, offered Wie a spot in this year's tournament. Then the venerable Royal and Ancient Golf Club said it would remove any gender restrictions from the British Open, effectively allowing any female qualifier to play. Ever since, Peterson has been fielding calls from media all over the world. Just so happens that the John Deere Classic winner, or the highest-placed finisher not otherwise exempt, will get an invite to the British Open. Not that Wie, a 15-year-old, has much chance to accomplish it, but she has captured the imagination of a lot of people.

"What I can tell you," Peterson said, "is that her coming to our tournament has generated an enormous amount of publicity and interest. Within one hour of the R and A's statement, we found 300 stories on the internet that mentioned the John Deere Classic.

"Rather than go to St. Andrews early for the British Open, many in the media intend to come to Silvis, Ill., to see if she can qualify. We've also had corporate clients closing deals with us with a certain degree of excitement. We have experienced nothing like this since Tiger Woods showed up at our tournament in 1996 for his third professional tournament."

Golf may be steeped in tradition, but it runs on cold, hard cash.


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