His friend, fellow South African and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, fared even worse. One day after withdrawing from this week's event at Bay Hill, he shot a 65 and tied for the 54-hole lead with Jim Furyk. Goosen, 43, has bulging disks in his back, a problem that became acute in the middle of last year, eased off over the winter but recently worsened. A top five finish at Transitions probably would've been enough to get him into the top 50, but the Goose's back was uncooperative. On Sunday he double-bogeyed the reachable par-5 1st hole, shot a 75 and dropped to 20th. Now he can take his sweet time recovering from the protein injections he is scheduled to have this week, the same avant-garde procedure that back sufferers Fred Couples and Vijay Singh successfully used.
Furyk's attempt to rebound went a little better. At least he made the playoff (along with Sang-Moon Bae and Robert Garrigus), and narrowly missed a slippery 40-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. Coming off the worst year of his 19-year career, a season during which he slid to 50th in the World Ranking, Furyk, 41, has also had a sluggish start to 2012.
Last year was a disaster in almost every way. Trying to pick up a little distance, Furyk went for low-spin clubs and balls and optimal launch angles. The problem is, he's a player who relies on shaping shots. Less spin on the ball meant less curve and less effective shotmaking. This year Furyk switched equipment companies, and changed clubs and balls. Last fall he junked the belly putter and went back to a conventional-length model, took a few months off to regroup and last weekend started to look like the gritty fighter and Ryder Cup veteran who punched out raindrops in the air after he won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup title in 2010.
"The results might not show it, but I feel good about the way I'm hitting it, and I feel confident in my game," Furyk says. "I was laughing about my press conference on Saturday because all we did was talk about how bad I played last year. I'd like to play well for a few events so we could talk about how well I'm playing this year."
Meanwhile, John Daly, possibly the ultimate reclamation project, was simply happy to be in the field. Thanks to a sponsor's exemption (box), he got his first start of the year in the U.S., made the cut and finished 51st. Daly has been playing the European tour this year because his status as a former British Open champion gets him into tournaments there, while the exemptions he has relied on in the States have gotten scarcer as his play and behavior have deteriorated.
The kid who grew up in rural Arkansas and became a phenomenon when he won the 1991 PGA Championship will turn 46 next month, and now he's a globe-trotter because, he says, "I just want to play." He likes the European tour, he says, and he felt at home in India "because there's a lot of pigs in the streets." (He didn't like that he couldn't get a piece of red meat there, so he lived on peanut butter and Diet Coke.)
Daly sharpens his game by playing six or eight events in a row. He was fourth at Qatar in February but then injured his elbow in India, leading to a cortisone shot last week. He shot a one-under 141 on the weekend, and his mood brightened when his significant other, Anna, surprised him with 20 five-foot-high cardboard posters of his face that she and friends carried around. "You wouldn't believe how many people asked to buy one," Anna reported.
Her last poster was promised to Daly pal Jon Gruden, the former coach turned Monday Night Football analyst. Daly is looking forward to the Masters. He's not playing, but he'll park his motor home at Friedman's Jewelry on Washington Road and, as usual, hawk his line of merchandise. He'll also do golf outings and host dinners for Pilot Flying J, the truck-stop chain that sponsors him.
After signing the final autograph for a line of fans on Sunday, Daly and Anna headed for the parking lot just as Furyk, playing in the final twosome, walked off the 1st tee with purposeful strides. Daly would leave the next day from Tampa International Airport. He has a tournament in Morocco lined up, followed by one in Sicily.
Another transition, another tournament, another chance to reclaim what was once his.