Steve Elkington began his round Friday at the 366-yard, par-4 10th with a soft, conservative long iron that landed in the rough. Next up was Shaun Micheel, who also hit a safe long iron. Then there was a pause.
The pause turned into a few moments, which turned into a couple of minutes, which eventually turned into John Daly patiently waiting for the group in front of him to clear the green. John Daly was hitting driver, and he was going for the flag. He hit a high, towering cut that went about 345 yards and landed in the trees just right of the fairway. He punched out, chipped on and two-putted for a bogey. He also bogeyed his second hole, the par-3 11th. His day was starting to look very familiar.
Rewind to last month’s British Open, where Daly was atop the leaderboard for one hole in the first round after eagling the 11th. He then dropped eight shots in seven holes to put himself in a tie for 89th.
But this time, somehow, Daly righted the ship, shooting 73 to end the day at even par, six shots out of the lead and still in the running to win his third major.
Daly hit one fairway all day and tied for last place in driving accuracy at a robust 7 percent. He hit five balls into the trees and a couple so far off line that he cleared the trees and ended up on adjacent holes.
Looking at those statistics, it’s amazing he didn’t shoot 90, but that’s just the way the man plays golf.
“I would rather take my chances out of the rough,” he said.
He was hitting his driver so hard that the weights on the bottom of the clubhead were coming loose. On No. 1, he hit his drive so far left that he was on No. 4. When he played No. 4, his drive was closer to one of No. 5’s tee boxes than to No. 4 fairway. And so it went the entire day, and so it’s gone for Daly’s entire career.
The rare times he played conservatively on Friday, it didn’t really pan out. On the 18th, he hit a long iron off the tee and yanked it into the left rough. When he pitched out, he didn’t even wait for the gallery to cross the fairway, and he almost hit a fan. He made a bogey 5.
His most impressive numbers, however, won’t show up on his scorecard or stats sheet. During Friday’s round, Daly smoked 14 Marlboros; he only takes a few puffs from each cigarette before throwing it down wherever he’s standing. Despite the heat, he did not drink an ounce of water the entire day, relying instead on three Diet Cokes and one Gatorade.
Sometimes Daly looks like he doesn’t care, hitting shots quickly and grabbing clubs without much deliberation, but that’s his game, and it stands out in comparison to his nicotine-free, fit, conservative and careful competitors.
He capped off Friday’s round on No. 9 in typical fashion. He cut his tee shot into the tree line for a fifth and final time, landed on hardpan, took out his wedge and stuck a shot through the trees that settled about 12 feet from the cup. It all went according to plan. He made birdie.