Daly hopes to resume his show minus the circus

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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' The fans were checking out the hats, T-shirts, towels and golf flags covering the folding tables, but what theyd really come to see was still inside the oversized RV parked across the street from Augusta National.
 
Wheres John today? one asked. Recovering?
 
Considering John is John Daly, the question wasnt unreasonable. Daly was one of the most entertaining golfers in the world, winning two major titles with his booming drives and go-for-broke style. He also was a hard-drinking, hard-living, train-wreck-waiting-to-happen kind of guy, and you never knew which one you were going to get.
 
I always talk about the things in my life that have happened because it might help somebody, Daly said Thursday. We all make mistakes, hell, everybody knows that. But most people are too embarrassed or too scared to admit them. Im not, its part of life.
 
Only a few weeks from the end of his six-month suspension from the PGA Tour and slimmer than hes been in years after surgery to shrink his stomach, Daly is kicking off what could be called his comeback tour at the Masters. The money he makes from shilling his merchandise ' cash only, please ' will help him stave off bankruptcy. The 40-plus pounds hes lost in the last eight weeks will help his prodigious game get back under control.
 
But its the reaction from the fans that seems to matter most. Its been more than five years since he won a tournament, two since he was a factor with any consistency. Hes fallen so far his No. 783 world ranking trails some guy from that golfing hotbed of Norway.
 
Yet fans are as gaga over Daly as they were back when he was golfs favorite sideshow, buying his hats, clothes and books, and lining up just for the chance to get a picture taken with him. Aside from Tiger and a few others, the guys playing across the street dont get that kind of love.
 
I cant believe how much hes been embraced this week, said Anna Cladakis, Dalys girlfriend. That, for me and for John, was important. It was the icing on the cake. After youve been practicing and losing weight and for everybody to come back and embrace him that really has helped John.
 
That Daly is spectacularly talented was never a question. You dont go from the last alternate to a major champion, as he did at the 1991 PGA Championship, unless youve got considerable game. And you sure dont win a second major ' the British Open, no less ' by being lucky.
 
But his personal life sounded like a bad country and western song. His two trips to alcohol rehab, four marriages, gambling losses and other off-the-course episodes have made him a carnival act to some and a cult figure to others. He doesnt have any sponsors for the first time in 17 years, and is pretty close to declaring bankruptcy. He made millions in endorsements over the years, but said he loaned a lot of people a lot of money.
 
After a series of incidents last season, including police in North Carolina throwing him in jail to sober up, the PGA Tour gave him a six-month timeout.
 
Youre always embarrassed a little bit, but you know, you take it in stride and go on and say, `Hey, everybody makes mistakes, Daly said. Most of the stuff thats happened in the last year or two, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and people judged it the wrong way. I know I didnt do anything wrong, but when you look at perception, its always wrong.
 
People judge and perceive instead of getting the facts about my life, he added. They want to make up stuff or start stuff because theyre so used to doing it.
 
After his weight, always a struggle for the 5-foot-11 Daly, ballooned to 280 pounds, he underwent Lap-Band surgery in February. A silicone band was placed around the upper portion of his stomach, shrinking its size and limiting how much he can eat. Hes lost 42 pounds so far, and has gone from wearing XXXL shirts to extra large.
 
Hes on a high-protein diet, and what he does eat has to be chewed and chewed and chewed so it will be soft enough to swallow. Alcohol? Daly said hell have the occasional sip of a drink or a beer, but thats it.
 
It takes me about an hour to drink one beer, just sipping on it, he said. I drink a little bit, but not much.
 
Added Cladakis, Hell come back and say, `It just doesnt taste right anymore.
 
Daly is also focusing on his game. Hes working with Rick Smith, Phil Mickelsons former coach, and plans to head to Europe later this month to play in Spain, Italy and Ireland, as well as at the PGA Championship in England. Daly said his long game is really good, but his short game is taking a little longer.
 
As for putting, lets just say theres a noticeable difference when theres no longer a belly to get in the way.
 
Im not having to lean back because my guts hanging over, Daly said. Me and Rick have been trying to shorten my stroke. The shorter putts are all right, but the long putts, my speeds way off. Its been tough. But Ive told Rick, whatever you want me to do, Im going to do.
 
What I love about him is he said, `Were not building something just to get you by, like youve always done, and hopefully you win. Were going to get you where you can stay more consistent.
 
Daly hopes to be back on the PGA Tour in time for the Colonial, which is May 28-31. While Tiger has a firm grip on the tours spotlight, theres also a pack of youngsters who can bomb it the way Daly did ' without the extracurriculars.
 
Still, Daly hopes theres still a place in the game for him.
 
I think this time its for me, said Daly, who turns 43 later this month. I dont have to really prove a lot anymore. Ive just got to prove some stuff to myself.
 

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