AUGUSTA (Georgia): A cola in his hand and a cigarette never too far from his lips, John Daly never looked more at ease as he stepped out of the Augusta National clubhouse, far removed from a world of trouble.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” Daly said on Monday. “To me, this is like heaven.”
The Masters also is his haven.
He wants desperately for this week to be all about his golf, which has been so good the last two months that he came out of nowhere – a place Daly knows all to well – to return to Augusta National.
Daly has such control of his game that no one would be surprised to see him in a green jacket on Sunday.
“If this is his week, there’s no reason he can’t win,” Adam Scott said. “His length is awesome and his short game is pure. It’s a matter of it clicking this week.”
But even as Daly played a practice round with good friend Fuzzy Zoeller, his mind was two states away.
Daly’s wife and her parents were in a federal court in Mississippi for the start of their trial on money laundering charges. They wound up pleading guilty in an agreement with prosecutors. Sherrie Miller Daly, indicted last July just five days after giving birth to Daly’s first son, was offered five years’ probation with six months of house arrest.
Prosecutors have said that Daly didn’t know about the trouble that led to the indictment, which alleged that his wife and in-laws conspired to buy and sell drugs using cash from previous transactions.
He said he would stand behind his wife of nearly three years, and strongly recommended she take the plea bargain.
“You don’t beat a federal court, a federal judge and the FBI. There’s no way,” Daly said in the parking lot. “I told Sherrie, 'You’ve got to look after what’s ahead of you. If there’s probation, house arrest, you’ve got to take that. I know you’re not a convict. I know you’re not guilty of anything. But you’re not going to win’.”
This might not be the best way to prepare for the first major championship of the year, especially on a daunting course like Augusta National that is expected to be firm, fast and troublesome.
But then, distractions seem to be a constant companion.
Daly was the ninth alternate when he drove through the night to the 1991 PGA Championship, then stunned the golfing community by overpowering Crooked Stick to win his first major.
He went through alcohol rehab, a nasty divorce and a suspension from the PGA Tour for rash behaviour, then showed up at St Andrews for the '95 British Open and added a silver claret jug to his trophy collection.
A victory this week at Augusta National – certainly not out of the question considering his skills – would make him only the 15th player in history to capture three of the four majors.
Daly generates a buzz unlike any other player.
He walked only 100 yards from the clubhouse to the putting green, and a wall of people caved in around him. Some of the fans reached out and patted him on the back; others shouted out to him, the voices becoming muffled cheers.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I’ve got my mind on golf, and it’s going to be fun.” – AP