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Daly has plenty to be happy about at this British Open

Posted: Sunday, July 17, 2005

He brought the cigarettes along, but left the motorhome behind. The nearest Hooters is 340 miles away in Nottingham, meaning dinner consists mostly of what they call takeaway over here.

In a place run mostly by stodgy old guys in coats and ties, John Daly walks around in a big blue shirt adorned with more sponsors than a NASCAR racer. The shirt has to be big just to get it over a prodigious belly, but the side benefit is that there's more room to sell on it.

Daly's caddie trails just behind, lugging a garish blue and gold bag covered with ''RedNeck'' and even more logos. Zip it open and you almost expect to find a six-pack inside.

Ten years ago, they declared him the champion golfer of the year at this very course. That's British for someone who wins the tournament they've been holding every summer for the last 134 years.

They had never seen anyone like this flabby Yank with a bad haircut who left fairways littered with cigarette butts and muffin wrappers as he chain-smoked and ate his way to his second major championship win.

He'd never seen anything like this odd course filled with hidden bunkers and double greens.

Both came to the same conclusion: Brilliant.

''The hair on your arms kind of stands up when you tee it up here,'' Daly said.

Hair wasn't the only thing standing Saturday. Fans by the thousands stood to cheer him on as he made a run up the leaderboard that ultimately was frustrated by some poor putting.

The buzz grew as he birdied the first three holes and the cheers got louder as Daly kept sticking it close on the front nine.

''C'mon Big John. Let's go John Boy,'' they yelled as he moved down the fairway under a cloud of tobacco smoke, occasionally nodding back in return.

A series of missed short putts and a bad decision on the 10th hole cost him, but this wasn't one of those rounds where a mistake was going to make him fall apart. He settled down to make a string of pars coming in, before finishing with a flourish, a 5-footer for birdie on the final hole.

It was good enough for a 2-under 70 that put him in a tie for sixth, six shots behind Tiger Woods.

''It's nice to be somewhat in contention,'' Daly said.

The line that should follow for Daly is that it is nice to be anywhere. He came out of nowhere to win the 1991 PGA Championship as an alternate, only to see his life spiral out of control as he partied away.

The story is well known. The drinking, gambling, divorces and blowups on and off the golf course were easy to chronicle because Daly was never shy about talking about them.

He wasn't as forthcoming about other things. It turns out Daly has a heart as oversized as the rest of him.

Daly's surprise win in 1991 at Crooked Stick overshadowed the other news out of the tournament that week. On the first day of play, lightning struck and killed a 39-year-old spectator as he tried to take shelter.

Tom Weaver left a wife and two daughters behind. And his death left the unheralded new champion shaken.

''I felt I was almost responsible for him being killed,'' Daly recalled in an interview in the August issue of Golf Digest.

The $230,000 Daly made for winning the PGA was the first real money he had ever made, and it wouldn't take long for him to blow it all. Before he did, though, he put $30,000 in a trust to the Weaver family for the education of the girls, Karen, who was 8, and Emily, who was 12, at the time.

''I really didn't have any money at that time but I felt so bad for them,'' Daly said Saturday. ''It was a young family, the girls were so young.''

Not wanting to stir old memories, Daly never contacted the family. But earlier this year, they contacted him to share the news that, thanks to his gift, Karen and Emily would be graduating from college.

''One's graduating to become a doctor and the other is in college,'' Daly said. ''The money went well.''

Daly hopes to see the family next month at a charity tournament hosted by Fuzzy Zoeller near their home in Illinois. He's seems almost embarrassed that the gift was revealed.

First, though, he's got some work to do Sunday on the Old Course. His chances of catching Woods are slim, but he remembers well 10 years ago when the wind was howling 40 mph and he shot a 71 in the final round to take the clubhouse lead.

When Costantino Rocca flubbed a chip from in front of the green, Daly and his wife at the time celebrated before Rocca then knocked in a 65-footer to tie. Daly went on to win a four-hole playoff and his second major championship.

He still watches video of that final round when things are going bad, which they often can in Daly's life. He's older and more mature, but he's given up trying to change himself too much.

Saturday night he'll eat some takeout pizza, then go to bed trying to figure out a way to go low in the final round.

Will he sleep well with all the pressure?

''When you eat as much as I do, you can sleep,'' Daly said. ''It's not hard to do.''

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org



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