John Daly profile: Lost in life's rough

FOR THE first time in six years, the 692nd best golfer in the world was paid to visit Australia this past week. Just like he did the last time he was here – when he petulantly threw his putter into the lake bordering the final hole at Coolum, site of the 2002 Australian PGA Championship, prior to marching off the course without signing his card – he caused a bit of a fuss.

His mere arrival at the Melbourne airport – fag in mouth, bags on cart – made the television news. One day later a fellow competitor (Stuart Appleby, a man who knows a thing or two about personal tragedy) in the Australian Masters at Huntingdale labelled him a "train wreck". And the sports columnist for one prominent newspaper, all the while high-mindedly bemoaning his subject's well-documented affection for "grog and gambling", found it necessary to write essentially the same story about the same man three days in succession.

Still, none of that is anything new for John Daly. At the age of 42, the big-hitting, long-swinging two time major champion must be well used to his life and times being dissected and discussed in public forums. Everything from his gargantuan appetite and/or unfortunate propensity for diet cokes (at least 20 a day), alcohol ("a few beers these days"), casinos (net losses well into eight figures, or so he claims), hotel room trashing (too many to count), arrests (estimates vary, but his most recent brush with the law saw him spend a drunken night in the pokey only two months ago) and wives (four and counting) has made this once-simple country boy from Arkansas a tabloid dream ever since he emerged from obscurity to win the USPGA Championship back in 1991. His supposedly affectionate sobriquet, "Wild Thing", is well earned.

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"Larger than life" is, sadly, another appropriate description of Daly these days. Weighing in at what must be at least 20 stone, he has become the Desperate Dan of golf, a caricature of the world-class golfer he once was. A look at his performances on the PGA Tour this year – a circuit on which he is no longer eligible – reveals only four cuts made in 17 appearances. His best finish is a distant tie for 40th. Only seven times did he break 70, the nadir surely the rounds of 80 and 89 he accumulated at Royal Birkdale in the Open Championship, an event he had won so memorably at St Andrews 13 long years, maybe 90 pounds and who knows how many shots of Jack Daniels ago.

Asked to explain any and all of the above shenanigans, Daly trots out a few well-worn lines about being "a survivor", about "trying to do the best I can" or about "getting through anything people throw at me". His glibness, however, is betrayed by the deadness of his eyes and the flat monotone in which he speaks. There is a genuine sadness in his downbeat demeanour. Daly surely knows as well as anyone that he has become a freak show at the circus, a two-day novelty distraction from the serious golfing business that takes place every weekend, a time he increasingly spends on other, less productive pursuits.

His career, such as it is currently, exists purely on invitations from sponsors happy to milk his early-week appeal for the publicity they crave. Now largely shunned by a PGA Tour exhausted by his antics, Daly says he has "decided" to play most of his golf on the European Tour in 2009. It was Hobson's choice, of course, and the next step down the golfing ladder towards eventual oblivion. At his present pace, he is perhaps two years away from long-driving exhibitions at country fairs.

Let's hope not, though. Daly's saving grace has always been the widely held view that, behind all the anti-social behaviour beats a good heart, one that has seen him extend all manner of touching kindnesses to the dwindling number of fans who continue to follow his distinctive action and admittedly addictive style of play. Who amongst us doesn't like to watch huge drives smashed into the middle distance or beautifully flighted pitch shots casually wafted over hazards and close to flags?

Two days ago, Daly missed the cut – what a shock – at Huntingdale. Rounds of 76 and 73 added up to a 149 total that was four shots too many. His putting was certifiably awful but, as always, he played with a refreshing speed that made one think that he is either a) a welcome throwback to a time when a round of golf in a professional tournament did not closely resemble a death march or b) not that bothered really.

One hole seemed to sum up Daly's current attitude to the game that should have made him a wealthy man. On the 440-yard 11th hole on Friday, he unleashed a mighty drive that, downwind, travelled all of 380 yards. One of his playing companions, former Amateur champion Mikko Ilonen, hit a huge block that led to him losing his ball.

The Finn played three off the tee before hitting a lovely pitch to within inches of the cup. Daly casually flipped a half wedge to maybe 30 feet, then – you guessed it – three-putted to match Ilonen's hard-working bogey. He trudged wearily to the next tee with nary a flicker of emotion.

From Melbourne, Daly will travel back to Coolum and the Australian PGA Championship (he may stay on another week to play in the Australian Open in Sydney if he and his management can reach an appropriate arrangement with the organisers, Golf Australia) where he will be re-united with the putter he sent for a swim back in '02. Mounted on a wall in the clubhouse, it is an appropriate monument to a career that, while superficially amusing, continues to be one more than likely to end up, metaphorically at least, at the bottom of a lake.

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AUSTRALIA and Spain were neck and neck going into this morning's final round foursomes in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup after a thrilling third day saw Richard Green and Brendan Jones draw level on 22 under par.

While day two belonged to Spain, after Miguel Angel Jimnez and Pablo Larrazabal's breathtaking display in the foursomes, the third day of fourball went to Australia as Green and Jones combined for a nine under par 63 to catch the Spanish pair.

Australia made the faster start as they immediately set about closing the four stroke lead held by Spain overnight, making three birdies in the first four holes against one by Spain. An eagle on the seventh, however, seemed to ignite the Spaniards and at the turn they were three in front. The three stroke margin remained intact until a dramatic change of fortunes on the 15th.

The last four holes of the Olazbal Course are notoriously tough and Spain bogeyed the par five 15th while Australia eagled when Jones holed from six feet. The three-shot swing put the two teams level and while Spain edged ahead with a birdie on the 16th, Australia moved into a share of the lead with a birdie on the last.

Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and Alastair Forsyth are out of contention in their defence of the trophy. They could only manage a 68 and are seven under for the tournament in a share of 20th place.

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