- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2007

TULSA, Okla. — Golf’s favorite fool is back on a major leader board.

John Daly stepped away from the slots at Tulsa’s Cherokee Casino just long enough yesterday to post a staggering opening-round 67 in the sweltering heat of the 89th PGA Championship.

“Today was a gift to me, I think, to myself and hopefully to my golf,” said the 41-year-old Daly, who didn’t play a single practice hole at Southern Hills before teeing off yesterday morning. “I haven’t played this course since [the 1994 PGA Championship]. I didn’t play a practice round this week because it was too hot. … There was odds with all the caddies and players this week on who would fall first — me or my caddie. But we made it. We made 18 holes.”

Just finishing 18 holes in the 101-degree heat at Southern Hills was an accomplishment for Daly, given his tragic fitness and complete and utter disdain for all things healthy.

“I only had three heat strokes out there,” said Daly, who has made just five cuts in 17 starts on both sides of the Atlantic this season. “You don’t get any air, and there’s a lot of humidity and it’s tough to breathe. I light up a cigarette and drink some caffeine, and it actually works. … Water? I don’t know how anybody can drink that stuff; it’s got no taste. No, I didn’t have a sip of water. You know what I always say, ‘Caffeine and nicotine equals protein.’ ”

That Daly just didn’t survive his ooze around the layout but actually posted one of the day’s best scores, without benefit of a practice round, employing a logic-defying strategy, in the midst of a dreadful season, borders on the miraculous. In fact, it was just the latest testament to a blazing talent that no amount of dissolution, indifference or irresponsibility has ever been able to totally eclipse.

Daly’s round was defined by his signature disregard for conventional wisdom, which states that dogleg-happy, tree-cramped Southern Hills (7,131 yards, par-70) demands that players plot their way around the layout using primarily 2-irons and fairway woods off the tees. Daly hit driver on all but two of the track’s multiple-shotters and found only six fairways. But he routinely drove the ball so far, and so close to the green, completely cutting off the doglegs, that he was left with only short-iron approaches, albeit usually from the rough.

His two measured drives (Nos. 2 and 13) averaged 345.0 yards, but he uncorked a handful over 350, including pin-high bombs at the 374-yard 9th and 366-yard 10th.

“We were on 18, and we saw [Daly‘s] ball way down there on 9,” Tiger Woods (71) said, marveling at Long John. “I think we all know that JD is extremely talented. Once he gets going, he gets going. … It must be from all the practice rounds he played here.”

Daly converted his massive drives into a handful of point-blank birdies and shocked himself, and everyone else on the property, by making just a lone bogey at the 16th. At last month’s British Open, Daly opened play by surging to 5 under through 11 holes before imploding on the back nine with a double and a triple en route to a 74 and eventual missed cut. That performance has been rather typical for Daly this season, his first without full-time playing privileges since 1991.

In spite of his miserable results this season, Daly actually has struck the ball quite well at times. But true to his career-defining habit, he hasn’t been able to avoid the vintage Daly trainwreck hole.

“I’ve had one or two bad holes every round,” Daly said. “If there was only 14 holes on a golf course, I would have won 17 tournaments over the last year and a half. … To be honest with you, I was waiting to make a seven or an eight, because that’s the way the year has been going.”

As usual, his existence off the course has been equally rocky, a June altercation involving the family cutlery and fourth wife Sherrie marking the latest episode in the trailer park circus of alcoholism, gambling and domestic cacophony that has defined his personal life.

Between that off-course chaos, his innumerable on-course fits of pique and his dogged commitment to professional dissolution, it’s almost impossible to respect Daly the golfer. After all, few figures in sports history have ever done less with more, his two major victories notwithstanding (1991 PGA and 1995 British Open).

But it’s almost equally impossible not to like Daly the person. In a golf world of buttoned-up automatons with swing coaches and mental gurus, Daly is a candid, old-school individual. He’s a magnetic throwback to pros like Walter Hagen, Ray Floyd and Fuzzy Zoeller, characters who wanted to whip you at the course and at the bar.

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