- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

More than once in the past decade, John Daly has made you wonder if he weren’t the illegitimate son of Tonya Harding and Walter Hagen. Ever since his “Tin Cup”-like victory in the ‘91 PGA, Daly’s life has been a virtual reality show — part “Temptation Island,” part “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?” part “Cops,” part “American Idol,” part “Survivor,” part “My Big Fat PGA Touring Pro.”

We’ve seen him trash a hotel room, get kicked off an airplane, scuffle with a fan, be arrested for domestic violence, check into a couple of rehab clinics, binge on M&Ms; (as a substitute for alcohol), run up huge gambling debts, quit a tournament in the middle of the second round, break his putter, throw his driver over a fence, chuck his ball and putter into a lake, one-hand shots out of the rough, hit a moving putt that was rolling back down the hill at him, smack six consecutive 3-woods into the water on the 72nd hole, record a CD and go through three wives and two equipment companies.

And all that was before lunch.

Almost every Tour stop has witnessed at least one Daly Moment. Here in Washington, we’ve had two — his ‘93 DQ from the Kemper for not signing his scorecard after an opening 77 and his ‘97 meltdown at the U.S. Open, in which he walked off Congressional in the middle of the second round. And still he pulls in the crowds — though lately it has been more of a Mike Tyson-type magnetism. They can’t wait to see what he does next. Bite off the ear of a USGA official? Get a tattoo of Champagne Tony Lema on his chest?

Or how about this improbability: Win a golf tournament.

Before last weekend, the headline “Daly Drives $1.4 M Recreational Vehicle off Bridge” was probably more likely than the headline “Daly Captures Buick Invitational With Playoff Birdie.” He hadn’t won in the U.S. since the ‘94 BellSouth Classic — his first victory sober, he exulted at the time — and as recently as four years ago he was 507th in the world rankings, just ahead of Bill Murray. About the only things he’d led the Tour in recently were driving distance and withdrawals.

But at Torrey Pines, John Daly rode again — though just barely. His final round score of 75, 3 over par, was the highest by a winner since 1990. He was also extremely fortunate that Tiger Woods, who mounted a Sunday charge, bogeyed two holes coming in, otherwise he would have had to contend with the world’s top player in the playoff, instead of just Luke Donald and Chris Riley.

The newspaper stories said Daly won the tournament with a tap-in bird on the first extra hole, but derring-do at the par-five 13th is what stands out for me. That’s where he found himself in the wilderness after his second shot — golf imitating life, as it were — and had a tricky approach through trees to the green. The situation had disaster written all over it. You had no trouble envisioning Daly’s ball striking a branch and settling in the deep grass … after which John-Boy would pitch over the green, three-putt for a snowman, snap his short stick over his knee and use a 2-iron for a putter the rest of the way.

But instead of self-immolating, Daly punched a Seve-esque shot that caught the downslope and ended up a mere 12 feet from the cup. Two swings later, he was safely in the hole with a par. Anything worse, and he wouldn’t even have been in the playoff.

We probably shouldn’t be so surprised by Daly’s victory. Late last year, after all, he showed signs of stirring, winning three non-Tour events — the Korean Open, the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational and the Wendy’s Three-Tour Challenge (with Mark Calcavecchia and Peter Jacobsen). Hey, a guy’s gotta start somewhere.

Besides, Daly has always had the ability to put together four good rounds seemingly out of nowhere. When he won the British Open in ‘95, it was his only Top 10 finish of the year. And his PGA shocker in ‘91 followed back to back weeks in which he’d missed the cut. (There was also a time in the minor leagues that he shot a 91 in the second round of a tournament, didn’t get to play on the weekend, then proceeded to finish second, second and first in his next three events.)

Now Daly has a two-year exemption in his pocket and the world is, once again, his Winnebago. After his Buick victory, he cracked, “My slogan is: ‘Who needs fitness when you have good equipment?’” Sounds like something David Wells would say.

Not that Daly is totally in the clear yet. His wife, Sherrie, and her parents face federal drug and money-laundering charges, and it’s entirely possible the mother of his only son — he has two daughters by two other wives — will end up in prison. You have to hand it to the people at Dunlop sporting goods. They couldn’t have found a more fitting golfer to help promote their line of LoCo clubs and balls.

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