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Daly Back on Track

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The end of the most difficult year in his checkered career gave John Daly some hope that 2004 would be a lot better.
So far, it has been. Big-time.
The gallery favorite earned his first PGA Tour victory in nearly nine years at San Diego on Feb. 15 and finished fourth last week in Los Angeles. After four tournaments, he's sixth on the money list with $1,133,646 -- already earning more than in any of his previous 13 years on tour.
He'll try to stay on a roll at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson, an event he likes but skipped last year -- along with San Diego and Los Angeles -- after his mother's death.
The bad start led to a year in which Daly fell to a No. 171 world ranking and missed the cut in his final seven tour events. Near the end, though, the picture brightened.
Daly won the Korean Open in October, his first victory anywhere in two years, took the Pebble Beach Invitational the next month and teamed with Peter Jacobsen and Mark Calcavecchia to win the Three-Tour Challenge on Dec. 21.
'The end of last year hasn't been talked about much, but it did a world of confidence for my game,' he said.
The 37-year-old Daly is easily the biggest fan favorite not involved in the simultaneous Match Play Championship. Daly wasn't invited to join the 64-player field because -- although his ranking has improved to 64th -- the cutoff was Feb. 19, and at that time it was in the 80s.
He needs to be in the top 50 to remain among the top 10 money-winners by March 28 to qualify for the Masters -- something Daly wants as much for the psychological boost it would give him as for the validation of his comeback.
He could really help himself by taking the $540,000 first prize in Tucson, where he has never won.
'It would be wonderful if I could win,' Daly said. 'But this field here is very strong. Anybody out here can win, but I do love the golf course.'
In agreement was Frank Lickliter II, who begins defense of his Tucson title on Thursday.
'This is not minor league golf,' Lickliter said.
The 7,109-yard, par-72 Tucson National layout is perfect for a long hitter.
Daly led the PGA in driving distance for eight consecutive years, but lost that distinction to rookie Hank Kuehne in 2003 despite averaging a career-best 314.3 yards off the tee.
This year, he's fourth (303.2), but unconcerned because of increased accuracy.
He's using a new ball developed by Dunlop to reduce spin and improve the feel for players with high-speed swings.
'This ball has just been awesome,' Daly said. 'It stays with the club face a little longer. And I don't need any more distance. I want to be able to hit it straight.'
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