Sunday, February 15, 2004

Daly turns back clock to 1995

Storms to lead in Buick

The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO - Fans lining the 18th fairway gasped and cheered when John Daly launched a 2-iron over the water and right at the flag Saturday in the Buick Invitational. The roar shook Torrey Pines like a Navy fighter jet when he holed the eagle putt, giving him a 4-under 68 and his first 54-hole lead in 10 years on the PGA Tour.

Just imagine him holding the trophy.

"It would prove to myself that it's not over yet," Daly said.

His life in constant turmoil off the course, Daly showed plenty of control on the tough South course at Torrey Pines by making only one bogey over the last two days and taking a one-shot lead over Stewart Cink.

Those wanting to see another victory by Tiger Woods (eight shots behind) or Phil Mickelson (nine shots behind) have someone they can root for just as hard.

"One guy said, 'Put the cows in the barn.' I'm from Arkansas, and I'm still not sure what that means," Daly said. "I knew it was a compliment, so it was kind of cool. It would be great to win another tournament for the fans."

Daly was at 13-under 203, one shot ahead of Cink (71).

Dennis Paulson, playing on a sponsor's exemption, had a 67 and was another stroke back.

While the fans might soak up another victory by the "Wild Thing," it would be a stunning comeback for Daly considering the constant struggles he faces.

Two divorces. Two trips to alcohol rehab. A PGA Tour suspension for erratic behavior.

The latest episode for Daly, winless on the PGA Tour since his victory in the '95 British Open at St. Andrews, came last summer when his wife and her parents were indicted on federal drug and gambling charges - just five days after she gave birth to his first son.

Daly did not want to talk about his problems away from golf, but he was asked how he was able to focus with so many distractions in life.

"I'm used to it," he said with a slow smile.

His wife, Sherrie, was waiting for him after his round. She said her 7-month-old son is wearing 1-year-old clothes.

"He's so big. His wrists look like ham hocks," she said. "He looks just like John."

Daly has always been larger than life ever since he crashed the scene with his victory in the '91 PGA Championship, where he was the ninth alternate and introduced his grip-it-and-rip-it style.

After going through a divorce and alcohol rehab, he won the '95 British Open at storied St. Andrews, then went through another divorce and more treatment for drinking.

Daly hasn't won on tour since St. Andrews, although he found some confidence late last year.

With his game approaching rock bottom again, Daly won the Korean Open, the unofficial Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach and teamed with Peter Jacobsen and Mark Calcavecchia to win the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge.

"Not big, big tournaments, but it didn't matter," Daly said. "Any time you win a professional tournament these days, you get confidence. And it carried over into this year a little bit.

The latest opportunity was set up by a solid round on a course that will host the 2008 U.S. Open. It ended with his best shot, a 2-iron from 253 yards that stopped 30 feet below the hole.

"To see him hit the fairway and hit an iron to the green, it was kind of spine-tingling, even for me," Cink said.

Golf sounds like NASCAR whenever Daly gets it going, and Torrey Pines should be buzzing on Sunday.

Daly still has his work cut out for him.

Cink kept his composure and is only shot behind as he tries to win for the first time in four years. Paulson lives about 10 miles away, and he is sure to have some support.

Woods lived up to Daly's reputation off the tee, hitting only five fairways on his way to a 72 that left him eight shots behind. He has never come back from more than five shots on the PGA Tour.

"I just need to drive it better," Woods said.

While Daly still takes the club back so far he can see the head out of the corner of his eye, he is much more in control, often hitting three-quarter shots that keep the ball from sailing too far off line.

"That's all I hit," he said.

He had 143 yards to the pin on No. 14 and hit a punch shot with an 8-iron. He normally would have swung from the heels with a wedge, "and it would have gone into the gunch."

Daly started the third round two strokes out of the lead, and after stuffing an approach shot into 2 feet for birdie on the opening hole, he was never more than one shot out of the lead.

Daly's pulled into a tie with Cink with a birdie on No. 9, and the roar could be heard at all ends of the course. The more impressive holes were his pars, getting up-and-down from the bunker on No. 11 and hitting a beautiful pitch to within 4 feet on the 15th.

"Seeing him with that kind of game management, it's scary," Cink said. "He's got such talent. His short game today was phenomenal. It's great for John and great for golf."


David Toms, away from golf the last two months after surgery on his left wrist to remove bone spurs, is expected to return next week at Riviera for the Nissan Open. ... The prediction of the week came from John Wood, the caddie for Kevin Sutherland. "You heard it here first," he said Thursday morning. "The streak ends." Vijay Singh would not finish in the top 10? "He won't make the cut," Wood replied. ... Bob Tway has his brother, Scott, on the bag this week. Scott Tway normally works for Scott Verplank, who skipped the Buick Invitational because his wife gave birth to a girl this week.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: Craig Stadler shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 in 30 mph wind to take a one-stroke lead after the second round of the Champions Tour's ACE Group Classic in Naples, Fla.

Stadler, back on the 50-and-over tour after tying for 35th last week in the PGA Tour's Pebble Beach event, had a 10-under 134 total.

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