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John Daly's unconventional attack on the crooked lanes at Southern Hills paid off Thursday. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
John Daly's unconventional attack on the crooked lanes at Southern Hills paid off Thursday. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

Defiant Daly conquers Southern Hills his own way

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John Daly didn't even bother playing a practice round at Southern Hills before he teed off Thursday, then attacked the dogleg-heavy course with his driver. His against-all-odds approach led to a 67 that wowed both the fans and his fellow players.

By Dave Shedloski, Senior Correspondent

TULSA, Okla. -- "Everybody is a little bit different," said the man who has Frank Sinatra'd his way to one of the most remarkably complex, convulsive -- and publicly approved -- careers in the annals of professional golf.

John Daly definitely has done things his way. His recipe for success is only a pinch or two different than a recipe for disaster, but the long-hitting golfer with the big heart all but monogrammed on his sleeve never quite brings that pot to a boil. An enigma energized by caffeine and cigarettes, Daly, when you least expect it, reminds folks that his immense talents and not his human frailties are the stock of his legend and popularity.

The two-time major champion served up such an entree again Thursday in the opening round of the 89th PGA Championship. With minimal pre-tournament preparation, Daly attacked breezy and sunburned Southern Hills Country Club with notable defiance, pulling out driver on nearly every hole en route to a stunning 3-under-par 67.

The unconventional attack on the crooked lanes of Southern Hills was established after an unconventional pre-tournament schedule that seemed perfectly congruent with Daly's personality. Rather than sizzle like a pork patty on a grill for three days hitting golf shots, the surprise 1991 PGA champion decided to sit in air-conditioned comfort playing slots. He did manage a three-hour practice session Wednesday at nearby Cherokee Resort & Casino, playing in shorts and tooling around in a cart.

Compared to the intense major prep work of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, Daly's routine was far from textbook, but it was a page torn right from his '91 playbook. Albeit then he had no choice, gaining entry to the grounds of Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., as the 11th-hour ninth alternate. Of course, he won the thing, bludgeoning the field with the same club that worked well for him Thursday.

"I'm hitting the driver great right now, and I'm going to go after it," Daly, 41, said after carding just his fifth sub-par round in the PGA Championship since his '91 coming-out party. "I'd rather make a bad score being aggressive than making a bad score being conservative."

But the player who has suffered some famous implosions on the golf course avoided the high number for once, suffering just a single bogey against four birdies. "To be honest with you, I was waiting to make a 7 or 8 because that's the way the year has been going," Daly, of Rogers, Ark., admitted. "If there were 14 holes on a golf course, I would have won 17 tournaments in the last year and a half. That's the way I look at it."

Though he jokes about his fitness -- "There were odds with all the caddies and players this week who would fall first, me or my caddie," Daly quipped -- he still has the power to cut the doglegs out from under a tricky championship layout. He hit only six fairways, but left himself enough short irons out of the rough to hack onto 14 greens before making a few putts.

The move to the top of the leaderboard created not only a buzz among the patrons, but also with fellow players.

"It's nice to see John up there. It's amazing," Ernie Els said. "This golf course doesn't suit his golf game at all, and it's nice to see him up there at the top of the leaderboard. Amazing."

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"I think we all know JD is extremely talented," Woods added. "Once he gets it going, he gets going. He plays very aggressively. When he gets going, he can shoot good numbers."

But good numbers have been hard to come by, even as his swing has been relatively functional for most of the last two years despite rib, finger and back injuries. Daly lost his PGA TOUR card following a 2006 season that was personally challenging on many levels, including the five-month incarceration of his wife, Sherry, for financial transgressions. Playing on sponsor exemptions and spirit in '07, Daly has two top-25s, but came to the PGA Championship having missed his last three cuts and withdrawing from the Canadian Open because of a bad back.

One of those missed cuts came at the Open Championship, which he captured in 1995. Last month at Carnoustie Scotland, Daly was 5 under par through 11 holes and in sole possession of first place before crashing to a 74. A following 76 left him well off the cutline and scratching his head. How he soldiers on, and how he managed to cobble together such a sterling effort at Southern Hills at times seems like as much of a mystery to him as it does to observers.

"I honestly don't know," he said when asked why he performed so well, drawing laughs. As for clearing a series of personal hurdles, all he said was, "Just gotta keep on plugging, keep going."

Daly last led the PGA Championship in 1997 after an opening 66 at Winged Foot, but he has made just four cuts and finished no better than 29th in the championship since Crooked Stick made him a star. Maybe he just needed to play in a blast furnace. Daly is capable of brilliance at any moment, even during a round in which he said he "only had three heat strokes out there."

Still, he bettered par by three strokes. "It's one good round of golf, but it's one I really, really needed," he said.

In truth, the thought that his performance was totally unexpected is a bit of a stretch. Daly repeatedly asserted that he has played well all year, and just hasn't put up scores that reflect decent ball striking. Add to that the fact that he inhales an inspirational breeze whenever he tees it up in the PGA Championship or the Open Championship.

"I always feel great about coming back to the PGA or the British," Daly said. "We play on different courses, but still, seeing my name on the trophies, that brings back some good memories. Right now, I need to find a few more good memories."

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