Nobody talks much about the big guy.
With good reason, perhaps, because John Daly hasnt done much at the Masters since his stunning 1991 win at the PGA Championship first got him in the tournament. He tied for third in 1993, but is a total of 66 over par for his last eight appearances since.
Huffing and puffing his way up the hill to the 18th green Monday, though, Daly was the choice of the fans'if not a tournament favorite. He got the biggest roar of the day a short time earlier when he knocked a 9-iron into the cup on the par-3 16th hole, and Daly was feeling pretty good about himself.
Monday was a day of preparation for almost the entire 92-player field with one big exception. Defending champion Phil Mickelson was two hours away in Duluth, where he tuned up for the first major of the year by winning a playoff at the rain-delayed BellSouth Classic.
The rest of the Big Four'Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh'were at Augusta for the first official practice day, getting a taste of what they can expect when the tournament starts Thursday.
Before some 40,000 practice-round fans and under perfect weather conditions, they found Augusta National playing long and fast, with greens so slick that it was sometimes hard to keep the ball on the putting surface.
Today was pretty much as fast as Ive ever seen greens in my life, said Swedens Joakim Haeggman, playing in his first Masters.
You were hitting putts up to the hole, and they were coming back to you, Jesper Parnevik said. Ive never seen greens this fast this early in the week.
Daly came here knowing the greens would be fast. He spent last week at home practicing on a green cut down to speeds he claimed were even faster than the slick surfaces hell confront this week.
The quick greens made him shorten his stroke, something hell need here. But Daly also is coming in with a new attitude for a course that will be playing longer than ever.
Ive always played Augusta too aggressive, he said. Back when you had sand wedge or lob wedge to greens you had to be aggressive. Now its 7-irons or 8-irons and you have to back off a bit.
Daly, of course, has made a career out of being aggressive. Hes the original grip it and rip it player, and that has led to some huge scores that have taken him out of tournaments.
Just two weeks ago, Daly took four swings at a ball in the rocks on the 18th hole at the Bay Hill Invitational and made an 11. He also has shot two 81s and an 80 over the years in the Masters.
He knows he has the length to play Augusta National. Better yet, he believes that he can compete if his irons and putter cooperate.
If that happens, the keepers of Augusta National probably will cringe at the site of the potbellied player coming down the back nine wearing a shirt adorned with more logos than a NASCAR driver. If not, hes always got the merchandise trailer he parks at the nearby Hooters during Masters week to sell souvenirs.
We sell good stuff, Daly said. Were not ripping the consumer off.
The focus the first day of practice was on the course, which last underwent any significant renovations in 2002. Though Augusta National looked the same, new grass put on the 15th green to make room for a new pin position left that green difficult to hold. The other greens were playing even faster than usual.
That might be because rain is forecast for Thursday, and the guardians of the green jacket think the course will soften up. If it doesnt rain, this Masters might turn into a test of survival.
I dont even want to guess how fast the greens are, Augusta native Charles Howell III said. Its scary.
This years Masters will be hard-pressed to live up to last years drama, when Mickelson sank an 18-footer to win his first major. It also was Arnold Palmers last Masters after 50 years, though Palmer will be back for the champions dinner Tuesday.
For players and fans, though, just being back at Augusta National for another year is something magical.
Once you get to Augusta, everything thats happened so far this year goes away, Howell said. I love the place and I get to play another Masters. It could be a lot worse than that.
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