AP News

Still a Star

Photo: Sam Greenwood/WireImage.com

John Daly's best finish this season is a tie for 22nd at the Nissan Open.

(AP) — John Daly withdrew from five tournaments and missed the cut in eight others on the PGA Tour. His best finish was third place at the Skins Game, which had only four players. And that didn't really count because it was after the 2006 season, the worst of his career.

As a result, Daly lost his card.

But not his appeal.

How else to explain why tournaments would trip over themselves to give sponsor exemptions to someone who has missed the cut, withdrawn or been disqualified from 45 percent of his PGA Tour events since his rookie season in 1991?

"I always get three questions," Kym Hougham, tournament director of the prestigious Wachovia Championship, said Tuesday. "Is Tiger coming? Is Fred Couples coming? Is John Daly coming? As strong a field as we had, people still thought it was important to have him."

Wachovia certain didn't need any help selling tickets. It had 27 of the top 30 players in the world, the fifth-strongest field this year behind The Players Championship, two World Golf Championships and the Masters.

What did Daly bring to Quail Hollow?

Those who joined his circus in the second round could say they watched him hit a milestone with his 50th career round in the 80s on the PGA Tour. He was 1 under par through seven holes and still managed to shoot 87.

Give him credit. He counted every shot and signed for the correct score. There ought to be FedEx Cup bonus points for that.

"I know he had a tough day here," Hougham said. "I didn't see any of the shots. But I was still glad to have him in the field. John is loved by the people. And we all have a responsibility to put people on the golf course that the paying public wants to see. Does his star remain bright? He's good for the gate, good for the crowd, good for concessions."

There shouldn't be a question whether Daly deserves so many sponsor exemptions.

Even though it seems like a fading memory, he did capture two major championships in unforgettable style. One was the 1991 PGA Championship, when he drove through the night to Crooked Stick as the ninth alternate and introduced golf to his "grip-it-and-rip-it" ways. The other was the British Open, always special when a claret jug is hoisted at St. Andrews.

His other three PGA Tour titles don't stand out nearly as much as the three divorces, two trips to alcohol rehab, outrageous tales of gambling losses, trashed hotel rooms and suspensions.

No doubt, he brings flavor to a vanilla sport.

And that's not all.

"One thing I know he'll bring — fans," said Larry Peck, golf marketing manager for Buick, after announcing that Daly would get an exemption to the Buick Open at the end of June.

"John Daly has been so good to the Buick Open," Peck said. "He's done clinics. He comes to the skyboxes to shake hands with our clients. We feel like we owe it to John to let him in. And it's self-serving. Fans love him. They come out to watch. He asked for an exemption, and we didn't even flinch. Yes, of course."

Daly is not missing the cut on purpose, best anyone can tell.

He has been dealing with injuries, most recently a shoulder problem that first surfaced at the Honda Classic when Daly tried to stop his warp-speed swing upon noticing a fan trying to take his picture. He tried to play the next week in Tampa, only to withdraw in the second round when he couldn't keep two hands on the club.

But with a history of so many MCs, WDs and DQs, Daly needs an MRI to convince people he's really hurt.

It was the same story last year. A sciatic nerve problem forced him to withdraw after the first round of three straight tournaments in the summer. A broken pinky kept him from playing the last two weeks of the year. Thankfully, he healed in time for the silly season.

Most players in Daly's position write letters asking for an exemption, then hope for the best.

Daly already had 20 offers by Christmas.

He even received an exemption late last year to the Target World Challenge, which takes top players available from the world ranking and extends four invitations. How did Daly merit an invitation at No. 147 in the world and winless since 2004?

"Anywhere he goes, he brings one of the biggest galleries," tournament host Tiger Woods said. "We're running a business, and we're trying to make as much money as we possibly can to put everything to our learning center."

The exemptions continue to pour in, even as Daly continues to pull out.

Still uncertain was whether his ailing shoulder would allow him to take another exemption next week at the Memorial, where in 14 trips to Muirfield Village he has seven rounds in the 80s, two WDs, four MCs and his best finish was a tie for 11th.

"Our captain's committee pays a lot of attention to all the players out there," tournament director Dan Sullivan said in explaining the invitation to Daly. "Two things come to mind. He's always supported the Memorial well, and he's a fan favorite."

And one of the great appeals of Daly is you never know what will happen next.

He wrote in his autobiography about the dismal state of his life and his game a dozen years ago. He was missing the cut every third tournament. He got married, became a father, got divorced, got remarried, became a father again, tried to stop drinking and built nearly $4 million in gambling debts.

"Going into the 1995 British Open, I was a train wreck," he wrote. "And yet somehow, I felt pretty good about my chances."

That's the thing with Daly. He keeps everyone guessing.

And maybe that's why they keep watching.

John Daly at a glance

A brief look at John Daly's career since his rookie season on the PGA Tour in 1991:

PGA Tour events: 382

Victories: 4

Top 10s: 32

Missed Cuts: 141

Withdraws: 27

Disqualifications: 4

Rounds in the 80s: 50.

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