Another sad chapter in Daly sideshow

By Ryan LavnerMarch 14, 2014, 9:22 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Most players would be looking for alternate lines of work if they recorded just two top 10s in eight years.

Not John Daly, the major winner-turned-sideshow who has been given everlasting life by tournament directors.

On Friday at the Valspar Championship, Daly made a 12 on the par-4 16th hole en route to a second-round 90 – the worst score of his increasingly bizarre career. He has now shot at least one round of 80 or higher every year since 1991.

No one can take away Daly’s two major titles, of course, but they’re darn sure getting harder to remember. His last major triumph was 19 years ago – when Jordan Spieth was a few days away from his first birthday. All that remains now is an also-ran in bright clothes with a penchant for big blunders.

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Daly blamed putting yips for his two-day total of 22 over par here at Innisbrook, and indeed it was cover-your-eyes stuff: He had four three-jacks and another four-putt. But it wasn’t like he was knocking down the flags, either. In addition to taking 70 putts (including 37 on Day 2), he hit half the fairways and just 20 greens.

This latest embarrassment, though, stems from his work Friday on the 16th hole, where he sailed his tee shot into the water right, then twice rinsed a shot as he attempted to cut the corner from 300-plus yards. Once he got near the green, just 92 feet away, he chunked his pitch into the bunker, blasted out over the green and needed to sink a 2-footer for 12.

“It was a good 12,” he told reporters afterward. “I got up and down to do it.”

To his credit, Daly signed a few autographs after his round, and he tried to put his day into perspective by discussing the current events in Malaysia, Harlem and Austin.

“People have bad holes,” he said.

Still, Friday’s 90 was Daly’s worst score in 1,467 career PGA Tour rounds, but he also has two 87s (2000 Bay Hill, 2007 Wells Fargo), an 88 (2009 Buick) and an 89 (2009 British Open) on his resume. Yes, people have bad holes. Daly just happens to have them more routinely than any player in PGA Tour history.

In fact, this was Daly’s 62nd round of 80 or higher on Tour. Sixteen times he has recorded a 10 or higher on a hole. That dreadful recap doesn’t even include his various excursions abroad, such as the 2011 Australian Open, where he sent seven balls into the water before storming off the course. In 2002, he slung his putter into the greenside pond on 18 and failed to sign his card, leading to a DQ. In 2009, he smashed a spectator’s camera into a tree.

Other notables on his career-long blooper reel include hitting 3-wood into the water six times and taking an 18 – his worst-ever score – at the 1998 Bay Hill tournament. In the 2000 U.S. Open, he carded a 14. He also had a 13 at the 2011 John Deere. Two years ago, he went 63-86 in Las Vegas.

Yet, for reasons unknown, the soon-to-be 48-year-old continues to play on Tour, almost exclusively on handouts. Never mind the fact that he hasn’t won since 2004. Or that he has just two top 10s since 2006. Or that he has 17 withdrawals in that same span.

Daly didn’t quit Friday, at least not in the walk-off sense, but he has in the past. Too many times. In all, he has 38 career WDs on Tour. That’s as many as David Duval (10), Davis Love III (nine), Vijay Singh (seven), Tiger Woods (six) and Fred Couples (six) combined.

When reached by on Friday afternoon, Valspar tournament director Kevin Krisle said that Daly has been a longtime supporter of this tournament, that he’s done a lot of work with the charities and that he played a Tuesday pro-am round with reps from the title sponsor. In other words, the minimum obligations for a touring professional.

Krisle declined to comment, however, when asked whether he had any apprehension in offering a spot to Daly given his recent form and past incidents, saying only that “all sponsor decisions are difficult to make. He’s been supportive of the tournament.”

“There are a lot of fans in the Tampa Bay area that love watching him play,” Krisle said.

Apparently for the same reason that fans turn up for UFC fights. They want to see carnage, and no one has self-immolated on the course more often than Daly.

Truth to tell, his occasional blowups would be easier to accept if he actually tried to earn a spot on his own merit. He’s been coasting on sponsor exemptions for the past eight years.

How many times has he attempted to Monday qualify?

How many trips to Q-School has he made?

This was Daly’s fifth start of the season, which seems an awful lot of events for the world’s 582nd-ranked player. Rest assured, the freebies will keep coming, presumably because of JD’s everyman appeal. At least they’ve got that part right – his golf has never looked more ordinary.


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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.