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Daly gets first win since '95 with playoff birdie

2/16/2004 - John Daly

SAN DIEGO -- John Daly buried his face in his hands and
cried, a winner again thanks to a shot that epitomizes his
turbulent career.

In golf, they call it an up-and-down.

In life, Daly knows about that all too well.

With a 100-foot bunker shot that trickled within 4 inches of the
cup, Daly birdied the 18th hole Sunday to win the Buick
Invitational in a three-man playoff, his first PGA Tour victory in
nearly nine years.

"It's the greatest," Daly said, fighting back tears. "I've
had a lot of ups and downs. Geez, this is sweet."

For those who have followed the turmoil in his life, it was
simply stunning.

Only six months ago, Daly was down in the dumps when he learned
his fourth wife had been indicted on federal drug and gambling
charges, just five days after giving birth to his first son.

His game was in disarray, plunging him to No. 299 in the World
Ranking.

His life was a mess.

But every time people write him off, Daly simply writes another
chapter in one of golf's most amazing stories.

"I never doubted I could win," said Daly, who had gone 189
tour events without a victory.

His victory at Torrey Pines was in doubt until Luke Donald
missed a 6-foot birdie putt, and hometown favorite Chris Riley's
5-footer for birdie horseshoed around the hole and spun out.

"I would have bet my life on that putt," said Riley, one of
the best in golf with the putter. "I take my hat off to Johnny.
He's been through a lot. To see him win is great."

Daly crashed the PGA Tour scene in 1991 by winning the PGA
Championship as the ninth alternate. He picked up his second major
on golf's most hallowed grounds, the '95 British Open at St.
Andrews.

After both highs, he spiraled into incredible lows -- two
divorces, two trips to alcohol rehab, rash behavior on the golf
course that led the PGA Tour to suspend him, rumors of gambling and
drinking.

Suddenly, it feels like another new start.

"He's had his troubles, and to come back to win ... nine years
without winning on this tour, you could never tell with him playing
that last hole," Donald said. "Obviously, it was John
Daly-esque."

Daly laid up on the par 5 in regulation and had to settle for
par.

Walking down the same fairway in the playoff, he told his caddie
that anything inside 275 yards to clear the pond and he was going
for it.

He had 262 yards, and he went for it.

His 3-wood found the right bunker, a daunting shot with the
water behind him and his opponents in birdie range. Daly blasted
out, then urged the ball on -- "Go! Go!" he yelled -- as it headed
for the cup.

He hated to see Donald, and especially Riley, miss their putts.
Still, this was a win Daly desperately needed.

"There was a lot of emotion," he said. "It was kind of a
relief that I won again."

Daly won $864,000 for his fifth PGA Tour victory. He also won
the BMW International Open in Europe in 2001, and took the Korean
Open and Callaway's Pebble Beach event late last year.

Nothing compares to this, especially with a world-class field at
Torrey Pines.

"This is the greatest victory," Daly said. "I won two majors.
Nothing can take away from that. But I've never won a tournament
that Tiger Woods has been in the field. That feels good."

Woods pulled within two shots until his driver failed him again.
He closed with a 69 and tied for 10th, two strokes short of the
playoff.

Phil Mickelson also made a big charge, with birdies on eight of
his first 11 holes. He birdied the final hole for a 67, then waited
nearly an hour to see if he would make the playoff.

He was among a half-dozen players who headed home when Riley
holed a clutch 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe to finish at
10-under 278. Moments later, Donald joined him with a putt from
almost the same spot.

Daly had a 35-foot putt to win in regulation, but it came up
just short and he headed for his first playoff since beating
Costantino Rocca at St. Andrews.

The victory will only bring more scrutiny on Daly -- his
nightlife, his family problems.

He simply shrugged.

"I don't see how it can get any worse," he said. "Everybody
goes through ups and downs. Mine just happen to be talked about a
lot."

Daly entered with a one-stroke lead over Stewart Cink (76), but
showed early this would be a wild day.

He hooked his tee shot so badly on No. 2 that it hit a cart path
and was headed for the sixth fairway. Instead, it smacked a tree,
ricocheted into a torrey pine, rolled along the branches and popped
out back over the gallery's head and harmlessly into the rough on
the same hole he started.

His next mistake got him, though.

His approach drew sharply over the green on the par-3 third hole
and rolled into a hazard. He tried to hack out, but moved it only 3
feet, then blasted over the green and two-putted from 90 feet for
double bogey.

That's when the fun began.

First came Mickelson, making four straight birdies until his
round was derailed by a double bogey on No. 12.

Then came Woods, the defending champion, closing to within two
shots until he missed four straight fairways and dropped two shots.

Woods was as impressed as anyone by Daly's latest comeback.

"He's had a lot of things happen to him -- we've all read about
it and seen it," Woods said. "It's great to have anybody who has
gone through the things he's gone through and succeed."

Notes
Brian Davis of England won the ANZ Championship in
Australia, which will move him into the top 64 on Monday and give
him a spot in the Match Play Championship. Duffy Waldorf was among
those who tied for fourth, which might be enough to move him into
the top 64. ... Dunlop Golf, which signed Daly to a sponsorship
deal at the start of the year, announced Sunday it would donate
$1,000 to The First Tee and $1,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation
for every birdie he made in the final round. Daly made two birdies,
including the playoff.