By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter

It was an eight-foot birdie putt, with 10 inches of break, on the 18thgreen. The kind of putt that a struggling golfer, even one who makes his living at the game, often misses.

But Chris DiMarco drilled it, and followed it up with a fist pump usually reserved for the 18thgreen on a Sunday.

That putt gave DiMarco, who has been struggling mightily on the PGA Tour Champions this season, an opening 7-under-par 65 and put him the thick of the Principal Charity Classic title chase Friday at the Wakonda Club.

“It’s just been a struggle this year,” DiMarco said. “I finally made a lot of putts today. I made nine birdies and two bogeys, so it was fun. There’s probably five or six weeks this year where I haven’t made that many birdies in a week.”

DiMarco birdied six of the last seven holes on the back nine and heads into Saturday’s second round two shots behind leader Scott Parel.

This is the 15thPGA Tour Champions tournament of DiMarco’s career. He’s never finished better than a tie for 30th. His previous low round had been a 68. 

“Any kind of confidence breeds confidence,” DiMarco said. “To go out and shoot 65, I knew it was there. It’s just been hiding deep down. It was nice to kind of show its head.”

DiMarco is hardly a golfing neophyte. He was among the elite players on the PGA Tour a stretch, winning three times and finishing as a runner-up in a major championship three straight years.

He was on the short end of a three-way playoff at the 2004 PGA Championship, won by Vijay Singh at Whistling Straits. He lost a playoff to Tiger Woods at the Masters in 2005. And he finished second to Woods at the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool. 

DiMarco eventually fell out of the spotlight, and quit playing for more than four years while working for the Golf Channel and doing a radio show.

But he decided to give it another go as he turned 50 in 2018. And his old nemesis, Tiger Woods, has been his motivation.

“I was using Tiger as my role model,” DiMarco said. “Two years ago everybody counted Tiger out and wondered if he would ever play the game again,” DiMarco said.

Woods won the Tour Championship last fall, and the Masters in April.

Watching Woods return gave DiMarco fuel for a comeback of his own.

‘”I took four and a half years off from competitive golf,” DiMarco said. “The hardest part is getting your competitive edge back and feeling like you belong. Do I belong out here? Do I deserve to be out here? Yes. Do I feel like I can compete out here? You know, it’s been a struggle.”

Friday was a refreshing change of pace for DiMarco. 

“These guys are really good,” DiMarco said.  “I’m watching Scott McCarron and Bernhard Langer and these guys and how easy they make it look, and I know how that’s how I used to do it. I mean, a bad round was a 68. I’ve got to get back to that point. My bad rounds need to be a 71, not 76 or a 75.”