Lesson from Daly: Expect the unexpected

Originally Published: February 15, 2004
By David Lefort | ESPN.com

You can't help but root for John Daly.

John Daly
John Daly's always been a fan fave, even more so now, after another unlikely victory.

In a sport whose superstar resembles more machine than man, Daly is a player we can actually relate to. He's Superman with a gut, Dale Jr. with a blind spot, Joe Hacker with a short game (and the major championships to prove it).

Sure, he's got problems. But hey, who doesn't? It's his flaws that endear him to fans, hundreds of whom were following the everyman icon Sunday on his way to one of the PGA Tour's most popular victories in years.

Daly gives golf personality. He's anything but robotic on the course, smoking a cigarette between shots and wasting no time before grabbing a club, winding up and firing away. In the get-in-shape-or-get-left-behind environment on the PGA Tour, Daly is a breed of golfer that's becoming rarer each season.

We've learned to expect the unexpected from Daly, and he certainly didn't let us down this week. His booming drives made him famous, but it's his short game that earned him the biggest payday of his career ($864,000) at Torrey Pines.

Around the tours ...

Buick Invitational
San Diego
Torrey Pines
South Course
(7,607 yards, par 72)
North Course
(6,874 yards, par 72)
$4.5 million (Winner: $810,000) Top finishers:
1x John Daly (-10)
T2 Chris Riley
T2 Luke Donald
T4 Phil Mickelson
T4 Thomas Bjorn
T4 Bo Van Pelt
T4 Shigeki Maruyama
T4 Duffy Waldorf
T4 Jesper Parnevik
T10 Tiger Woods
T10 Billy Mayfair
T10 Jay Haas
T10 Brandt Jobe
T10 Tom Pernice, Jr.
T10 Stewart Cink

ACE Group Classic
Naples, Fla.
The Club at TwinEagles
(6,915 yards, par 72)
$1.6 million (Winner: $240,000)
Craig Stadler
Details: Won in playoff with Tom Watson and Gary Koch; it's his fourth win in 16 career starts on the Champions Tour.

ANZ Championship
Port Stephens, Australia
Horizons Golf Resort
(6,766 yards, par 72)
$1.35 mil. (Winner: $255,500)
Brian Davis
Details: He had 10 birdies in a 17-point final round. Earned a spot in the Accenture Match Play with the victory.

Some facts and figures from Daly's victory:

  • Daly was the sandie-man in San Diego. He got up-and-down 10 of the 12 times he found a greenside bunker, and that's not including the sand save that won him the tournament late Sunday.

    Daly's 3-wood approach from the fairway on the first playoff hole (par-5 18th) found the bunker behind the green, while his two playoff foes -- Luke Donald and Chris Riley -- decided to lay up. After Riley and Donald each put their third shots within six feet of the cup, Daly blasted out of the sand from 100 feet to within inches. He made the bunny for birdie, while Riley and Donald missed their putts.

  • He took the second-fewest putts of anyone who made the cut, averaging just 26.3 swipes with the flat stick per round. His 1.698 putts per green in regulation was also among the top 10 in the field.

  • No examination of Daly's week would be complete without a look at his driving. He hit just over half of his fairways (T31) and averaged 308.5 yards off the tee -- fifth in the field. Typical Daly numbers. He's averaged more than 300 yards the last six years and has always been among the cellar-dwellers in driving accuracy.

  • The victory is Daly's first on the PGA Tour since the 1995 British Open, but a look at his last five months shows he started to turn it around long before this week: He won the Korean Open last October, and followed that up with victories at the unofficial Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational in November and at the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge. He's also played each of his 13 official rounds of 2004 at par or better.

    Woods fizzles down the stretch

    Defending Buick Invitational champion Tiger Woods was erratic in his first event since January, missing more than half his fairways in a frustrating week.

    Despite his struggles, he finished at 8-under -- just two shots short of the playoff. He rallied to within two shots of the lead Sunday after playing his first 10 holes at 4-under, but just when he appeared to be ready to make a run at a vulnerable Daly, he missed four straight fairways and dropped two shots -- three if you count a par on the very birdie-able par-5 13th.

    Next up for Woods is the Nissan Open at Riviera, where he made his PGA Tour debut at the age of 16. It's also one of two events he's played at least three times as a pro and hasn't won.

    "I've had my chances there to win and just haven't been able to do it," Woods said. "Who knows, this week could be the week."

    Also playing at Riviera will be Vijay Singh, who missed his first cut in almost a year at the Buick Invitational.

    David Lefort is ESPN.com's golf editor, and he can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com. Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.