Surprise, surprise: Daly takes the lead at hot PGA Championship
AP National Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
TULSA, Okla. (AP) ” John Daly prepared for the PGA by pulling slot machine handles. He dealt with the oppressive heat by smoking cigarettes and loading up on caffeine. Ask him how he became the leader after the first round and Daly’s answer is honest: “I have no idea.”
This was no heat-induced hallucination, golf fans. That was Daly’s name atop the leaderboard Thursday at the PGA Championship, a result as surprising to him as those who watched him sweating through his round of 3-under 67 at steamy Southern Hills.
“I can’t remember, to tell you the truth,” he said when asked to recount his birdies in the 95-plus-degree heat. “I only had like three heat strokes out there.”
One thing was certain: The solid play that left him the clubhouse leader midway through Thursday’s round, a shot ahead of Arron Oberholser and four clear of Tiger Woods came without the benefit of practice.
Instead, Daly spent the early part of the week at a nearby casino playing slots.
“Everybody’s different,” he explained of his less-is-more practice regimen. “I’m in better shape than Tiger.”
But skipping practice has worked before for golf’s favorite carnival act. In 1991, he took the sport by storm, winning the PGA at Crooked Stick after coming in as the ninth alternate and playing without benefit of a practice round.
“I talked to Vijay at the British Open and he said he came in eight days early,” Daly said. “I just can’t do that. I get burned out. I like spending time with my kids and family, riding in a golf cart. That’s how I get ready for a major.”
One shot behind Oberholser were Mark Wilson, Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas, Markus Brier and Lee Westwood, who all posted 69s before the temperatures climbed into the 100s for the afternoon.
British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson each teed off in the afternoon, as temperatures kept soaring and the breeze became more unpredictable.
Masters champion Zach Johnson started with a bogey, then hit his approach on No. 2 into the lake behind the green, en route to a double bogey and a 3-over par start.
Woods finished at 1-over 71 after an up-and-down day that included a chip-in to save par on No. 17, but a couple of undercooked approach shots that resulted in bogeys ” the product of a swirling wind that kicked up during his second nine.
“I felt like I hit the ball better than my score indicates,” Woods said. “Every time I missed, I missed ever so slightly in the wrong spot. That’s how it goes.”
On the other hand, it seemed like every decision Daly made turned out well.
He cranked a driver deep into the woods on No. 12 ” probably an unwise club choice given how far he hits it ” and seemed to be in big trouble. But after carefully measuring off his yardage, he hit a wedge that flew under one tree and over another and landed the ball 20 feet from the hole to save par.
On the short par-4 17th, he took out driver, then exchanged it for a safer 2-iron to make par. On 18, he inexplicably hit driver and got lucky when the ball landed on a small slice of fairway that bisects a bunker and a stream. He made par there, too.
Obviously, Daly will never apologize for hitting driver.
“If I’m going to make a big score, I’d rather make a big score being aggressive than being conservative,” he said.
He said he ironed out his driver problems during a practice round at the casino’s golf course. And he credited his good score to improved putting that resulted from a novel approach.
Novel for him, at least.
“I walked behind the hole to read some putts, which I never do,” Daly said. “I bent down to look at some putts, which is not something I’ve done. I stood over some putts longer than I normally do ” for six or seven seconds instead of three or four or five.”
Growing up in Arkansas, he got used to beating the heat.
“You just light up a cigarette, drink some caffeine and it actually works,” he said. “I’m used to it. It bothers me, but I’m used to it ” let’s put it that way.”
He left the course Thursday guaranteed a longer stay atop the leaderboard than the last time he led a major ” just three weeks ago when he pitched in on the 11th hole at the British Open to briefly take the lead in the first round at Carnoustie.
He followed by dropping eight shots over the next seven holes en route to missing the cut.
“It was very disappointing, but it wasn’t from bad golf shots,” Daly said. “That’s what I’m finally realizing.”
Daly’s personal life has been almost as big a train wreck as his golf game of late. Last year, he wrote a book divulging he’s lost between $50 million and $60 million by gambling over the last 12 years. More recently, he made a splash when he showed up to the tournament in Memphis, Tenn., with scratch marks across his face, the result of what said was an attack by his wife, Sherrie, with a steak knife.
He has withdrawn from four tournaments this year, missed the cut in eight more and seen his world ranking slide to No. 423.
Nobody figured he’d be much of a factor in this tournament ” at least not in the conventional sense.
“The caddies were laying odds as to who would fall first, me or my caddie,” Daly said, “but we made it all 18 holes.”
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