John Daly surprises at the PGA

Posted: August 10, 2007

TULSA, Okla. - John Daly rolled into town late. And because it's hotter than a pizza oven here, he blew off his only chance for a practice round at Southern Hills Country Club on Wednesday in favor of playing the slots in the cool of Cherokee Casino a few miles from here.

But yesterday, when it was showtime at the 89th PGA Championship, Daly went out and shot one of the most impressive and improbable 3-under-par 67s of his checkered career, leaving him alone in second after the first round, only 2 shots behind Englishman Graeme Storm.

Arron Oberholser, Woody Austin and Stephen Ames were tied for third after firing 68s. West Chester's Sean O'Hair shot an even-par 70 and was tied for 13th. Defending champion Tiger Woods shot a 71 and was tied for 27th. Phil Mickelson shot a 73 and was tied for 53d.

But yesterday was Daly's day - a day when there was not much to do except shake your head and tip your hat to the living legend, or train wreck, that he is.

"Today was a gift to me," said Daly, grateful for a brief respite from the realities of a life and career familiar with victory, defeat, booze, and the flashing lights of police cruisers.

In case you haven't heard, his fourth wife, Sherrie, did time not too long ago for a money-laundering scheme. And Big John, once seemingly indestructible, has been suffering his share of ailments and injuries, threatening his golf game.

Despite Daly's two major titles - the fairy tale win at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick and at the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews - he has lost his PGA Tour card and has been reduced to begging for sponsors' exemptions at tournaments. He got into the PGA this week only because he is a past champion.

So far, Daly is making the most of it. Yesterday's four-birdie, one-bogey round was a study in the cool-headedness he had failed to show this year.

When was the last time he had shown up late for a major, missing out on a practice round?

Try Crooked Stick in '91, when the then-PGA Tour rookie was the ninth alternate and got a surprise last-minute call that he was in. He drove all night.

Of course, it's not that Daly didn't get in any practice since he hit Tulsa on Tuesday. After he chilled out playing the slots at the casino much of Tuesday and Wednesday morning, the casino shut down its own golf course for him for three hours that afternoon so he could practice in his own way - T-shirt, shorts, pack of smokes, golf cart.

"Did good the first day," Daly said of the slots. "Didn't do too good the other day."

By the time Daly and his caddie, Peter VanDer Riet, hit Southern Hills yesterday, the jokes were already flying on whether he could make it around the course in the 100-degree heat.

"There were odds with all the caddies and players this week about who would fall first, me or my caddie," Daly said, grinning proudly.

Yes, it was hot, but, after growing up and living in Dardanelle, Ark., only 21/2 hours away, Daly had his own coping mechanisms.

"I light up a cigarette and drink some caffeine, and it actually works," Daly said, laughing. "The heat does bother me, but I'm used to it."

On any highlight reel, the key to Daly's round yesterday will probably be monstrous bombs he hit off the tee, including a 365-yarder at the 13th hole.

But the truer key to the round was the hot putter he rode on the front nine, running off six straight one-putts beginning at the fourth hole.

"I did something I haven't done in a lot of time in this heat - bent over looking at some putts, stuff I haven't done," Daly said.

It was not a bad round for a man who hadn't played Southern Hills since 1994, the last time the PGA was here. But he knew better than to get too excited, though.

At the British Open a few weeks ago, he was the leader at 5 under through 11 holes on Thursday and missed the cut. The wheels could come off here, too.

"To be honest with you, I was waiting to make a 7 or 8, because that's the way the year has been going," he said. "If there was 14 holes on a golf course, I would have won 17 tournaments in the last year and a half. That's the way I look at it."


Joe Logan blogs from Tulsa at


Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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