TULSA, Okla. -- After all these years, John Daly still loves
to grip it and rip it.
First at the slot machines.
Then at Southern Hills.
Neither figured to be the smart choice at the PGA Championship.
Instead of practicing on a course he had not see in 13 years, Daly
chose to gamble at Cherokee Casino. Then he really rolled the dice
by hitting driver at every opportunity on a track that demands
Against all odds, it worked.
Drenched in sweat and drowned by cheers, the two-time major
champion walked off the 18th green Thursday with a 3-under 67 that
left him two shots behind Graeme Storm, another unlikely star on a
day rife with surprises.
Storm, who was washing trays at cake factory in England five
years ago, was the only player who made it around Southern Hills
without a bogey on his way to a 65 that left him looking down a
leaderboard to find some of the usual suspects.
"The longer you stay ahead of Tiger Woods, the better," Storm
Woods, the defending PGA champion trying to make sure he doesn't
end the year without a major, birdied three of his first six holes
before he ran out of improbable par saves and settled for a 71.
Woods' name on any leaderboard can be intimidating. These days,
Daly's name looks out of place.
Especially this week.
He didn't bother with a practice round the previous three days
because of the oppressive heat, where temperatures climbed past 100
in the opening round and a cold front this week is anything in
double digits. While some guys went through a liter of water every
two holes, Daly loaded up on caffeine and cigarettes.
Not long after his best round at the PGA Championship in 10
years, it was all a blur.
"I can't remember, to tell you the truth," Daly said when
asked about his four birdies. "Only had three heat strokes out
No one else could believe it.
"Must be from all of the practice rounds he played here,"
Daly had not played Southern Hills since he missed the cut at
the '94 PGA Championship. Best he can recall, only one other time
has he showed up at the first round of a major without a practice
round. That would be the '91 PGA Championship, when he was the
ninth alternate who drove through the night to Crooked Stick in
And then he won.
Only a dozen players managed to break par on a course that
provided ample opportunity for birdies, yet meted out its share of
punishment with the slightest mistake.
Stephen Ames birdied his last three holes for a 68, putting him
with Arron Oberholser and Woody Austin. The group at 69 included
British Open champion Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and former
U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, who made seven birdies.
So many others weren't so fortunate.
U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera was at even par until he hit
two balls out-of-bounds, one in the water and took three putts from
30 feet for a 10 on the par-3 sixth hole, sending him to an 81, his
worst score in a major championship.
Woods was in great shape at 3 under, saving one par from the
trees on No. 16 and another by chipping in on the 17th. But from
the middle of the fairway, his approach to No. 18 (his ninth hole)
clipped a tree and dropped into the bunker. His next shot rolled
down a slope some 50 feet away and he did well to make bogey.
Three more bogeys followed, although the world's No. 1 player
didn't sound concerned.
"I felt like I hit the ball better than my score indicates,
which is good," Woods said.
Phil Mickelson made his share of amazing birdies to go with a
collection of blunders, such as his journey through the rough and
trees for a bogey on the par-5 sixth, and dumping a flop shot into
the bunker on No. 8.
"You're going to hit some bad shots and get bogeys here," he
said after shooting a 73. "You're not going to be able to go all
18 holes and go unscathed."
Storm was the exception.
He had the only bogey-free round, which required no small
measure of skill, along with some luck.
The 29-year-old player from England had little left in the tank
when he arrived in Tulsa from the World Golf Championship at
Firestone, where he finished 18 over par. This is his eighth week
in a row, a stretch that began before he won the French Open for
his first European Tour victory. Storm decided to forget about
technique and enjoy the day, and it turned out to be a blast.
He started with consecutive birdies, nearly making an ace on the
11th. And when it looked as though he might get in trouble with a
tee shot into the trees on the No. 2, he chipped in for birdie and
raised his hands, wondering what was happening to him.
"It was one of those rounds when I never really thought about
anything," Storm said.
This was no time to reflect on his past, either, the darkest
days coming at the end of the 2002 season when he lost his card in
Europe and was broke. He found work at a cream cake factory,
washing trays in the back alley in weather so cold the pipes were
frozen. It paid about $250 a week, a job he kept for two months.
"You have to bite the bullet and go back," he said. "I was
just being a normal person doing an everyday job, eight hours a
day. I didn't know where my career was going to go. I thought that
might be the end, to be honest."
Daly's career looks like it might end any minute.
He lost his PGA Tour card last year and has been getting by on
sponsor's exemption when he needs them. But that hasn't been his
problem. Daly has finished only five of his 19 tournaments this
year, and he hit a milestone this year by recording his 50th round
in the 80s on the PGA Tour.
So how to explain ripping driver on a course that requires
careful navigation? Signing for a 67 at a major where he had broken
70 once in the last 10 years?
"I have no idea," Daly said.
And then there's the heat, so severe that workers doused greens
with a hose and Ames stood in front of a fan to cool his face.
"No wonder he didn't play any practice rounds," Ames said of
Daly. "He would have died."
Daly found it a victory simply to finish, huffing and puffing up
the hills, especially on the last hole.
"There was odds with all the caddies and players this week who
would fall first, me or my caddie," he said. "So we made it. We
made 18 holes. It was one of those rounds I was very aggressive off
the tee. I didn't know what else to do."
The bigger question is where he goes from here.