Is John Daly ready to scratch that nine-year itch? The last time Daly won a PGA Tour event was in the last century, at the 1995 British Open, but here he is today with the lead of the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, once again casting a shadow that’s either giant or simply overweight.
But that’s the fun with Daly, the 37-year-old, chain-smoking, binge-eating, motor home-driving, golf ball-crushing, poet, author, songwriter, guitar player and general, all-around hell-raiser who is in trouble about as regularly as most people are in the bathtub.
That was no slip-up on the 18th hole Saturday when Daly blistered a two-iron 253 yards to the front edge of the green, the ball stopping 32 feet from the hole and setting up an eagle possibility.
Daly’s putt disappeared into the hole faster than a doughnut on his plate. He finished with a four-under-par 68, took a one-shot lead over Stewart Cink and then said he just loves golf because it’s a sport people can play until they’re 100.
Most people, that is. Daly said he doesn’t see himself playing until he’s 100, though.
“I don’t see myself living to be 100,” he said. “Fuzzy [Zoeller] has got me at 50-1 making it to 50.”
Dennis Paulson, who accepted a sponsor’s invitation this week, has made tournament director Tom Wilson look good so far, especially after his 67 on Saturday that put him one shot behind Cink and two behind Daly, who is at 13-under 203.
Paulson said Daly might be flawed, but he has a heart of gold.
“He’s done some things that he wishes he wouldn’t have done,” Paulson said. “He’s done some things the tour wishes he wouldn’t have done.
“Everybody knows deep down he’s a good guy. With all the mess-ups, he’s honest to a fault. That’s just the way he is.”
Steve Flesch is fourth, four shots behind Daly at 207, with Tom Pernice, Jesper Parnevik, Brandt Jobe and Stephen Leaney another shot back.
As for Tiger Woods, he birdied the last hole for a 72, but he has a long way to go, beginning the last round tied for 21st with nine others at five-under 211.
“It was a struggle,” said Woods, who wasn’t in any kind of groove with five birdies and five bogeys. “It’s a matter of getting comfortable. When I get comfortable, I can hit some good shots. This back nine today was a positive move in the right direction.”
Speaking of direction, Daly’s has been questionable of late. Since last July, Daly was either disqualified or withdrew from four of his seven PGA Tour starts. He won two smaller tournaments late in the year, the Callaway Invitational and the Korean Open, where he picked up an appearance fee.
This year, he tied for 30th at the Bob Hope and tied for 54th at Scottsdale, and tried to stay out of the headlines.
The most famous song Daly has written is called “All My Exes Wear Rolexes.” That must mean all three of them.
He won the 1991 PGA Championship, then at St. Andrews in 1995 he took hold of the famous Claret Jug and seemed to throw a huge scare into the gentlemen in the blue blazers who feared he would fill the thing with jelly beans, or perhaps something liquid.
Daly hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since. It has been a long dry spell since then, at least on the golf course, because dry and Daly haven’t gone well together in the past. He said recently he hasn’t had a drink in a month, but that’s the least of his problems, mostly legal, and mostly involving his fourth wife, Sherrie.
Five days after giving birth to Daly’s third child in July, Sherrie and her parents were indicted in federal court in Mississippi on charges of laundering more than $1.2 million in illegal drug profits. Sherrie, who is here with Daly this week, could face up to 20 years in prison.
Daly didn’t take any questions on the subject, but he was typically direct and honest when asked how he maintained his focus when his personal life was not in order.
“I’m used to it,” he said. “I’m just used to it.”
Daly had one bogey, when his eight-iron was short of the green at the fourth and landed in a bunker, but the rest of his round was steady. He had 11 pars, two birdies and an eagle the last 14 holes.
The last time Daly held the lead after 54 holes in a PGA Tour event was the 1994 BellSouth Classic, which he wound up winning.
His official world ranking is only 299, but that’s still better than his low point of 506.
Even so, Daly said he would not spend too much time dwelling on the fallout of another victory after such a long time.
“It would be wonderful,” he said. “It would prove to myself it’s not over yet.”
Many fans have remained in Daly’s corner and they made themselves heard Saturday.
“One guy said, ‘Put the cows in the barn, let’s go,’ ” Daly said. “I’m from Arkansas and I still kind of don’t know what that means. I knew it was a compliment and I knew it was positive. It would be great to win another tournament for the fans.”