Out of nowhere, Daly on leaderboard

Big John two back after stunning round

Posted: August 10, 2007

TULSA, Okla. - When last we heard from John Daly, he was leading last month's British Open, at 5-under par through 11 holes. By the time he trudged off the 14th green at Carnoustie he stood at 1-over, courtesy of a double bogey and then a quadruple. He finished the round at 3-over, carded a 76 the next day and didn't even make the cut. And he didn't stop to chat about it with anyone, either.

Because it was John Daly, nobody was really shocked. Actually, it was fairly predictable.

The 1991 PGA champion didn't play a practice round at Southern Hills this week. Since he didn't play in the 2001 U.S. Open here, that meant the last time he saw the course was at the 1994 PGA, where he missed the cut. Instead, he prepared for the final major of the season by heading to a nearby casino to try his luck at the slots. The people who run the casino also let him have their course to himself for a few hours on Wednesday, so he could go around in shorts and T-shirt and ride in a cart. Perfect.

"It was probably the best practice I did," Daly said. "Everybody is different. I don't know. I was talking to Vijay [Singh] at the British Open. He was there 8 days prior to the tournament. I can't do that. I get burnt out.

"I like to spend time with my kids, and my family. I've done it this way all my life.

"It was just a great day to take the shag bag out there, get a lot of work done. Real privately. Real peaceful. It was nice to do that."

Naturally, the troubled soul who has missed the cut in 10 of the last 12 PGAs and who, at 41, isn't even a nonexempt player on the PGA Tour anymore, put a 3-under 67 on the board yesterday, which left him two off the pace being set by none other than Graeme Storm, who of course is making his PGA debut.

Daly, who has been playing with an injured shoulder this season, has missed the cut in eight of his 17 starts. He also has withdrawn four times. Other than a tie for 15th at the 2005 British Open at St. Andrews, where he had won 10 years earlier, he hasn't been a factor in a major in a decade.

Even though it's only the first day, who knew?

"I have no idea," Daly admitted. "There was odds this week with all the caddies and players who would fall first, me or my caddie. It was one of those rounds I was very aggressive off the tee. I didn't know what else to do.

"I can't remember [many details], to tell you the truth. Only had three heat strokes out there."

Daly found only six of 14 fairways, but hit 14 of 18 greens. He had four birdies, three on the front nine, and a lone bogey 5 on the 500-yard 16th, which he considered a par because it's so long.

"This is a very big confidence booster for me," said Daly, who only lives a few hours away in Dardanelle, Ark. "I'm used to [this kind of heat], but it does bother me. I light up a cigarette, and drink some caffeine, and it actually works.

"To play well, you've got to have some confidence. And I've had none. So hopefully this will help."

Daly's frenetic world always has been a train wreck waiting to happen, on the course and off. Despite all the shortcomings, or more likely because of them, he remains a public curiosity. Much of the time, you don't know whether to laugh or turn away. He's working on his fourth wife (which hasn't been going real well, if you've been paying attention), and he has obvious issues with gambling and alcohol, to name just two. Yet somehow, he keeps going.

And now, for a change, he's become the early storyline for the right reasons.

"I wasn't down on myself at the British," he said. "That was one hell of a golf course. As long as I know I'm hitting the ball good, there's a chance I can play good . . .

"I was waiting to make a 7 or 8 [today], because that's the way it's been going the last year-and-a-half. If there was 14 holes on a golf course, I would have won 17 tournaments [in that span]. That's the way I look at it. One or two bad holes every round. You almost can't help but get down on yourself after that."

Someone wanted to know if he ever sought the help of a sports psychologist.

"To be a sports psychologist, you gotta be insane to listen to all out [crap] we've got to talk about," Daly said. "I think I just answered that pretty damn good there . . . You just keep plugging."

And so it went. He's nothing if not open. Maybe too much for his own well-being sometimes. But he's not about to change, whether he contends this week or goes home early once again. And by the way, the only other major he remembers not playing a practice round on the course was the 1991 PGA at Crooked Stick, when he got in as the ninth and last alternate.

He sure was some story. Still is. Even if his score today might be higher than the temperature. It's why we keep watching.

Who cares if he appeals more to that Hooters crowd, anyway?

"I'm not thinking about [what this could mean for the rest of his career]," he said. "Something good is going to happen. I'm swinging too good, and playing too good. I believe that otherwise I wouldn't be playing. I wouldn't be playing, if I didn't think I could win anymore.

"But it seems like there's always something going wrong. Today was a gift to me, I think. It's one good round of golf. But it's one that I really, really needed . . . [to] try to salvage this year."

And perhaps even a whole lot more.

Or maybe it's merely a blip on the old roller-coaster.

"It's the crazy things that have been happening in my life," Daly said. "I was going to see a doc, and I was sitting in a pool with some friends, and I just kind of turned to the right and a couple of them go, 'What was that?' My shoulder popped back in. I didn't have to go see the doc. So it was perfect. Today, I don't know if it popped out. I'm going to get it looked at again. But it was sore about the last four or five holes . . . I need a month off to let it heal."

He tees off at 3:05 (EDT) today. Reality will have to wait. *

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