Daly delights crowd with hint of a comeback
Puffing a cigarette on the practice green in lurid multicoloured pants, a bright orange shirt and bleached hair, John Daly looked, as always, something of an interloper at the PGA Championship.
But from the moment he took to the first tee and was greeted by roars and applause from the gallery it was clear he belonged and was welcome at the Ocean Course.
"It's been a blessing throughout my whole career," Daly told Reuters on Sunday after finishing a round played to the backdrop of fans yelling encouragement on every hole.
"When things haven't gone good, they seem to keep you up. This has been a grind here on this course, but they kept me going. It is so tough here you are just grinding and you don't have chance to acknowledge them really but the fans have been fantastic with me."
With a three-under 69 on Sunday that left him one-under for the tournament, it was clear that it is not just Daly's status as a colourful "Wild Thing' that is the base of his appeal.
Daly, a PGA Championship winner in 1991 and British Open winner in 1995, could look at the leaderboard and see the likes of world No 1 Luke Donald, 2012 British Open winner Ernie Els and four-times major winnerPhil Mickelson all below him.
The 46-year-old Daly's battles with drinking, gambling and his four wives have been well-documented, less so has been his quiet and steady return towards the kind of golf that brought him attention in the first place.
He came into the tournament having finished fifth at the Reno-Tahoe Open and this season he came 11th at the Sicilian Open and 24th at the Irish Open.
Those are hardly spectacular results but after years of battling to make cuts, they are a welcome morale boost for a golfer who has been working to get his career and his life on sounder footings.
"It's baby steps for me. I'm slowly but surely getting more and more confidence because I'm making a lot of cuts," said Daly. "Whether you play great on a weekend or bad, at least you're playing competitive. That's what I need, whether it's 15 weeks in a row, 20 weeks in a row; I've always been a guy that likes to play a lot.
"So I just feel like I've got a great rhythm. It's nice to know that if I can just make a few extra putts, maybe one or two more a round, I can be in contention. I just love the way I'm hitting the ball."
Off the course, Daly's priorities include custody of his son 'Little John' and he has taken on the commitment, with the help of his girlfriend Anna Cladakis, of home schooling him.
"Third grade's not easy," quipped Daly when asked how he was coping with the teaching role. "Verbs, nouns, adjectives, synonyms, stuff we all forget about. But he's doing great, he's a quick learner."
Daly is doing a little re-learning himself and is hoping a good showing at next week's Wyndham Championship can help push him into the season-ending FedExCup playoffs.
If the crowd at Kiawah this week is a decent barometer he would certainly be a popular presence.