TULSA, Okla. (AP) — No one knew John Daly was in town until he showed up yesterday morning at Southern Hills for the first time in 13 years. Not many knew who Graeme Storm was until he showed up atop the leader board in a PGA Championship rife with surprises.
It's safe to say they didn't take the conventional route.
Storm was washing trays at a cake factory in England five years ago so he could buy Christmas presents and use the rest of the money for a last-ditch effort to play golf for a living. Not even he could have imagined a 5-under 65 in stifling heat for a two-shot lead in the final major of the year.
"I couldn't really see myself playing golf, to be honest," Storm said.
Daly certainly couldn't see himself practicing at Southern Hills when it was 100-plus degrees outside, so he didn't. The two-time major champion spent two days at the casino with mixed results, and found the action decisively better on a course he had not seen since missing the cut in the '94 PGA Championship.
The last time he showed up at a major without seeing the course?
That would have been 1991, when he was the ninth alternate and won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick.
"I think everybody is a little different," Daly said after a 67, his best start at any tournament in two years.
They were among a dozen players who managed to break par on a course that provided ample opportunity for birdies, yet meted out its share of punishment with the slightest mistake.
Stephen Ames birdied his last three holes for a 68, putting him with Arron Oberholser and Woody Austin. The group at 69 included British Open champion Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who made seven birdies.
So many others weren't so fortunate.
U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera was at even par until he hit two balls out-of-bounds, one in the water and took three putts from 30 feet for a 10 on the par-3 sixth hole, sending him to an 81, his worst score in a major championship.
Defending champion Tiger Woods got off to a quick start in his bid to capture his first major of the year, with birdies on three of the first six holes to establish his name on the leader board. By the end of the day, he was tossing clubs and pursing his lips, happy to save par one last time for a 71.
"I felt like I hit the ball better than my score indicates, which is good," Woods said.
Phil Mickelson made his share of amazing birdies to go with a collection of blunders, such as his journey through the rough in trees for a bogey on the par-5 sixth, and dumping a flop shot into the bunker on No. 8.
"You're going to hit some bad shots and get bogeys here," he said after shooting a 73. "You're not going to be able to go all 18 holes and go unscathed."
Storm was the exception.
He had the only bogey-free round, which required no small measure of skill, along with some luck.
The 29-year-old player from England had little left in the tank when he arrived in Tulsa from the World Golf Championship at Firestone, where he finished 18 over par. This is his eighth week in a row, a stretch that began before he won the French Open for his first European Tour victory. Storm decided to forget about technique and enjoy the day, and it turned out to be a blast.
He started with consecutive birdies, nearly making an ace on the 11th. And when it looked as though he might get in trouble with a tee shot into the trees on the No. 2, he chipped in for birdie and raised his hands, wondering what was happening to him.
"It was one of those rounds when I never really thought about anything," Storm said.
This was no time to reflect on his past, either, the darkest days coming at the end of the 2002 season when he lost his card in Europe and was broke. He found work at a cream cake factory, washing trays in the back alley in weather so cold the pipes were frozen. It paid about $250 a week, a job he kept for two months.
"You have to bite the bullet and go back," he said. "I was just being a normal person doing an everyday job, eight hours a day. I didn't know where my career was going to go. I thought that might be the end, to be honest."
Daly's career looks like it might end any minute.
He lost his PGA Tour card last year and has been getting by on sponsor's exemptions when he needs them. But that hasn't been his problem. Daly has finished only five of his 19 tournaments this year, and he hit a milestone this year by recording his 50th round in the 80s on the PGA Tour.
So how to explain ripping driver on a course that requires careful navigation? Signing for a 67 at a major where he had broken 70 once in the last 10 years?
"I have no idea," Daly said.
And then there's the heat, which caused players to drink a liter of water for every two holes played. Daly prefers to load up on caffeine and cigarettes.
"There was odds with all the caddies and players this week who would fall first, me or my caddie," he said. "So we made it. We made 18 holes. It was one of those rounds I was very aggressive off the tee. I didn't know what else to do."
The bigger question is where he goes from here.
Daly was atop the leader board at the British Open through 11 until he played 8 over the rest of the way and eventually missed the cut. He was among the leaders at Pinehurst No. 2 in the 1999 U.S. Open, where he shot 81-83 on the weekend. And he was the first-round leader at Winged Foot in the '97 PGA Championship. By the third round, he threw his driver over the fence.
He didn't show up at Southern Hills completely in the dark.
Along with playing the slot machines, he jumped in a cart for a quick round on the course at the Cherokee Casino, found he was drawing the club too far inside and made a quick fix that seemed to work. And even if the slots were unkind, he had some luck at the PGA.
Daly was among the few who hit driver on the 18th, the ball landing on a sliver of grass between a bunker and the creek.
Ernie Els was at the steps of the clubhouse, looking back down the fairway and at a leader board showing Daly's name at the top. All he could was shake his head.
"Nothing he does surprises me," Els said. "This golf course doesn't even suit him."