Press: So something happened?
Couples: Something happened, yeah.
Press: And it makes it harder for you to focus on your game?
Couples: Sure. I guess the best way to say it, I broke up with my girlfriend [Tawnya Dodds]. I mean, what is the big deal?
Meanwhile, ignored, a golf tournament was about to get under way. This Players had the finest field assembled for any event since the advent of the World Golf Rankings in 1986. The top 50 players were here. Number 11, the 34-year-old Elkington, was boring straight ahead, opening with a 66 and a one-shot lead that included four straight birdies. Not that it made a ripple.
This is because late on Thursday things took a direct turn toward Ugly. That's when the former recovering alcoholic John Daly decided to celebrate his opening 76 with a night of insobriety. He started at Hooters and then made it to Sloppy Joe's cantina in Jacksonville Beach, where he fell in with five members of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. People plied Daly with free drinks, and soon he was onstage singing Knockin' on Heaven's Door to the accompaniment of Stormbringer.
By 12:10 a.m. he was being taken back to his villa at the Sawgrass Marriott by a musician he had met named Will Hurley. "He didn't seem bad to me," said Hurley. "A lot of the night he was drinking ice water!" When the two pulled into the parking lot, Daly stayed for a time in Hurley's van. "He didn't say, but he let on like there could be a problem inside with his wife [Paulette]," Hurley said. "I offered to go in and smooth things over, but he said no." Once inside, the storm was good and brung. The Dalys apparently argued. Paulette summoned Fuzzy Zoeller, John's closest friend on the PGA Tour, to try and calm her husband down. That didn't exactly work. "He said some things to me I know he didn't mean." Zoeller said.
Paulette left the villa with the couple's 22-month-old daughter, Sierra, went to the front desk and asked for help. According to one hotel employee, it took six security people to subdue Daly, who inflicted some damage on the room. Two days later it was still being referred to by Marriott operators as "unoccupiable." All of which is not the kind of behavior that will get you Honored Guest upgrades.
At 1:30 Zoeller accompanied Daly to a hospital. "He was about as far down as I've ever seen one human being," Zoeller said. He was treated and released later that morning. By 7:30 a.m. the Dalys were no longer registered in the villa. On Friday morning Daly withdrew, citing a sore hip. "Flask," a wise guy added.
On Easter Sunday. Daly announced he will check into the Betty Ford Alcohol Rehabilitation Clinic in Palm Springs, Calif. It's his second rehab stint since 1994, and it was unclear whether checking in was his idea or the Tour's, as was the first. Either way, the news was more than welcome to Daly's close friends. Daly had blown two years of sobriety by drinking again last August—"this doesn't mean he's fallen off the wagon," his handlers insisted—and was looking like a guy late for an appointment with an oncoming train.