John Daly shot a 71 on Thursday.
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Thursday, December 04, 2008

COOLUM, Australia (AP) — This trip down the 18th hole at the Australian PGA championship was so much different for John Daly.

Six years ago, after taking a triple-bogey 7 on the final hole in the second round, Daly threw his putter and ball into a greenside pond at the 18th and later failed to sign for a 78 on his scorecard, disqualifying himself from a tournament he would have missed the cut in anyway.

On Thursday, the 18th came early for Daly - midway through his round after starting on 10 in his first appearance back on the course since the 2002 meltdown when he played the final six holes in 9-over par.

Daly pulled out a driver on the 18th Thursday for only his second time on the day and flew it at least 35 yards past playing partner and 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy. From there, Daly a lob wedge to about 12 feet.

He pushed his birdie putt just right of the hole, leaving a near tap-in for his par and a 1-over 37. But not before one anxious moment - Daly accidentally dropped his putter on the green, narrowly missing his unmarked ball and just saving himself a penalty.

Daly finished with a 1-under 71, including a testing 12-foot downhill birdie putt on his last hole - the ninth. He was five strokes behind leader Tim Wilkinson when play was suspended for the day because of thunderstorms.

He'll be at least five shots off the lead following New Zealander Tim Wilkinson's early 66 before the wind picked up on the Hyatt Regency resort course.

After taking care of his scorecard, Daly signed dozens more T-shirts, programs and books for fans outside the scorers' area, several of whom told the American how pleased they were to see him back.

"I got off to a bad start, but I came back," Daly said. "I putted terribly but I'm happy with the way it went."

Asked if he was pleased to have played well in his first appearance back, Daly replied: "Oh, yeah."

Wearing a brown shirt with a "Blue Collar Golf" logo, Daley appeared relaxed among the large gallery that followed his group, which also included Michael Sim. Sim finished at 2 under and Ogilvy was 5 under, one shot off Wilkinson's early lead.

The 42-year-old Daly parred the 10th but double-bogeyed the par-3 12th when his tee shot went in the water. He birdied the par-5 12th and 15th while again having problems on a par 3, bogeying the 14th.

He had a routine par on the par-4 13th, very much unlike six years ago.

In 2002, Daly's tee shot went into the water along the left side of the fairway. A rules official was called when playing partner Craig Parry questioned the accuracy of Daly's assessment of where the penalty drop should be placed.

After watching the shot on a TV replay, the PGA rules official agreed with Parry and asked Daly to take the drop much farther back toward the tee. Daly drove off the fairway and put his next shot back in the water to the right of the green, ending up with a triple bogey.

Daly was later fined $5,600 by the Australasian PGA Tour and was ordered to write a letter of apology to a tour official he verbally abused, and to Parry and his other playing partner, Greg Norman.

This time around, it was much more amicable. Daly and Ogilvy often chatted, and Sim appeared to ask Daly some career advice, at least judging by Daly's response to one Sim question: "It's often tough to juggle it all," Daly said.

Daly missed the cut in last week's Australian Masters in Melbourne and has entered the Australian Open next week at Royal Sydney.

He's trying to finish a difficult year on a positive note.

He spent a night in jail on Oct. 27 after being found "extremely intoxicated and uncooperative," police said, outside a restaurant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Daly hasn't had a PGA Tour card since 2006, when his two-year exemption expired from his last victory at the Buick Invitational in 2004. He made only five cuts in 17 starts on the PGA Tour this year and earned $56,000.

In 2009, he plans to play mostly on the European tour.

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