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"I saw him on TV. He has a few more pounds to lose, but don't we all," says Jeff Maggert, who has known Daly since they competed against each other in college (Daly at Arkansas, Maggert at Texas A&M). "From my perspective it's not about him coming back and playing golf. It's about getting his life in order. You don't want to pick up the newspaper and read that something bad has happened. That's the road he's been on."
At the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, won by Steve Stricker (page G6), the emotion and focus of the week centered on Amy Mickelson's breast cancer, but Daly's return was also a topic of conversation. If Daly's Tour brethren have grown tired of his stops and starts and endless incarnations, they aren't saying so. Instead, they're softly cheering for a 43-year-old golfer entering perhaps his final act as a professional.
"He's the sweetest guy. He's always so kind to everyone he's around," says Ben Crane. "Well documented are his struggles. We simply want him to go forward."
Says Gary McCord, the Champions tour pro and CBS announcer, "Hopefully he gets a little wiser. He needs to focus and have something to do. If he's tending to his business and doing his job, it helps himself and the Tour. If he's cast adrift, who knows what's going to happen?"
MISS YOU BUB got your message!! Bad luck of the draw in Ireland w/weather but stayin focussed & workin hard practicin'—Daly, via Twitter, replies to Rick Smith, May 16, 10:15 a.m. EDT
Daly has played in seven European tour events since his suspension, interspersing competitive rounds and practice days with a strong embrace of the European life. If he is not the rock star overseas that he is in the U.S., Daly's baseline for popularity is his Open triumph at St. Andrews, the kind of cachet that never expires.
Last month Daly tied for second in the Italian Open while wearing yellow pants, one of many sartorial choices that squares nicely with the splashier golf outfits in Europe. (Daly recently signed an apparel deal with Loudmouth Golf, a California company whose celebrity roster includes former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and rocker Alice Cooper.) And though he missed the cut at the Irish Open at Baltray, Daly used the occasion to buy an Irish wolfhound at Nutstown Kennels near Dublin. (He named the dog Greg.)
Without status on the PGA Tour and unsure of how many sponsor's exemptions he will receive (the maximum allowed is seven), Daly is instead chasing a spot in the European tour's Race for Dubai, in which the top 60 on the money list compete in the $20 million Dubai World Championship in November. Daly is 100th in earnings. But with Tiger Woods still a question mark and with Mickelson out indefinitely, Daly's wattage would provide an instant boost to the Tour. Says McCord, "[Daly] is still one of the biggest draws out here—him or Freddy [Couples]."
Says Tour veteran Bart Bryant, "It does nothing but help our Tour when John shows up and plays well. The fans know it." Problem is, Daly hasn't shown up or played well for most of the last decade, save for an out-of-nowhere win at Torrey Pines in 2004 and a stirring playoff loss to Woods at the '05 American Express Championship at San Francisco's Harding Park.
If Daly can refrain from becoming an Internet sensation—hitting tee shots off beer cans, playing shirtless and shoeless (as he did in Missouri) while doing a television interview, drinking heavily and ending up with a mug shot in an orange jumpsuit—he might last a little longer in his return from his European adventure.