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Thursday, January 27, 2011
John Daly (67) keeps chugging along

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- He still attracts gawkers and curiosity seekers, as if he were a wreck beside the road. Sure, John Daly still has some skills, still hits the long ball to the amazement of many, still draws a crowd.

John Daly
John Daly, ranked 606th in the world, carded a 67 on Thursday and stood tied for fifth after the opening round at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Those who were not blinded by the garish trousers and orange shirt he wore Thursday at Torrey Pines were treated to a rare display of good golf from the two-time major champion, who has not finished better than 188th on the PGA Tour money list in six years.

His typical entry into tournaments is via the sponsor exemption route -- free passes, if you will -- and why they continue to be doled out speaks to the desperation some events must feel to attract headliners.

It certainly isn't because of his golf, although Daly has been known to be a good sport about obliging the sponsors who continue to enable him.

And yet he couldn't help but trash a couple of them Thursday, swearing he'll never return to the Bob Hope Classic or the Waste Management Phoenix Open, tournaments that this year declined to extend their generosity one more time.

"I'm just saying that if you look at my past, everything the Thunderbirds [the Phoenix Open organizers] have ever wanted me to do ... I'm sure I did for them," Daly said. "I helped get celebrities go to the Hope. I helped them out. I went to their parties and did everything for them."

Never mind that Daly withdrew twice and missed the cut in his last three appearances in Phoenix. His last appearance at the Hope, he withdrew.

Sponsors want the name players around for the weekend, hoping they'll sell tickets. Daly should be thrilled with the opportunities he gets, which are still numerous despite little good play to back it up.

Daly blames an injury suffered at the 2007 Honda Classic for many of his woes, a situation that led to a lawsuit because a fan snapped a photo of him in midswing and caused him to flinch.

That led to shoulder and rib injuries that Daly says hampered him for several years. Yet he got 24 total starts that year and 17 in 2008 -- when he missed 12 cuts -- and then played just six times in 2009 due to an undisclosed PGA Tour suspension.

"These last three and a half years since the flash of the camera at Honda ... it's just ruined my career," Daly said. "I'm not going to lie about it."

Daly said rehab and exercise have strengthened the shoulder, and that, "I'm feeling better; I'm feeling healthy. I'm hitting the ball the way I want to hit it. I'm getting to the impact zone the way I want to get to it now.

"Seriously, it's been a struggle. It's been a long time. Hopefully the shoulder will hold up and keep going."

For many, Daly is easy to embrace. His addictions, his imperfections, his four marriages ... and his honesty about all of it makes him sympathetic to some.

He has lost more than 100 pounds after lap band surgery and kept the weight off. Last year, he made 14 of 20 cuts, withdrawing from just three tournaments, which for Daly is an improvement.

"I've probably always shared the difficulties that I have in life like everybody else," he said. "I've never hid anything. I think that means a lot."

His 67 on Thursday was his best at Torrey Pines since he won the tournament in 2004. Sustaining that, of course, is the trick with Daly, who raises hopes, only to typically disappoint. His best finish in the past five years has been a tie for 16th. And he hasn't had a top-10 since 2006.

And yet, tournaments keep providing handouts. In all that time, Daly has never made fewer than 17 starts in a season, aside from 2009 when he was suspended. So he went to the European Tour, where he'll go again next week in a huff. No Phoenix exemption was forthcoming, so Daly is playing in Qatar.

A year ago at this tournament, Daly walked off after a poor second round, saying, "I'm done," leaving many to think he was quitting the game. He wasn't gone for long, and now here he is, with a good round under his belt.

Amazingly, it's been 20 years since Daly, 44, came out of nowhere to become golf's folk hero by winning the PGA Championship as an alternate.

Now he's ranked 606th in the world and moaning about tournaments that don't give him a chance when he's had dozens of them over the years.

The best way to take care of that is to play better. Daly hasn't done that in a long time, but for one day at least, he has given himself and all his fans a glimmer of the long-ago-lost greatness.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.