Daly's patience pays dividends

First-round 72 at Augusta highlights a new focus

April 09, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He has not made a cut on the PGA Tour this year. He has not won a tournament in nearly three years.

John Daly has been sober for two years, and yesterday's even-par 72 in the opening round of the 63rd Masters was another step back to respectability for a player once considered among the game's biggest talents.

"Patience is a goal for me," said Daly, now 32. "That's a goal for me to work on."

Winning used to be Daly's second-biggest priority, after either drinking or gambling. He recently admitted in an article in Golf magazine that he was drunk for much of his victory in the 1991 PGA Championship, and for the three tour wins that followed.

It was during Daly's first period of sobriety that he won two tournaments, the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta in 1994 and the British Open at St. Andrews in 1995. He sought treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic after a drinking binge at the 1996 Players Championship.

"I'm a little more focused than I used to be," said Daly. "I don't think I hit the ball any better than I'm hitting it now. I'm trying to take the big numbers out. I haven't shot any real low numbers this year, but I've had a chance."

Daly had a chance to shoot some big numbers yesterday, but showed uncharacteristic patience and uncanny creativity to get out of a couple of potentially difficult situations.

The first occurred when his ball on the par-3 fourth hole landed just above a greenside bunker. Daly would have had to stand in the bunker to hit it, so he made an attempt to hit left-handed.

But his stance left him standing on a sprinkler head, so he asked for relief and was told he could drop the ball. It rolled safely onto the green, and Daly two-putted for par. "I got a good break there," he said.

He also made one for himself at the par-5 13th. After hitting his drive into the woods and pitching out onto the fairway, Daly flubbed an L-wedge. The ball fell into Rae's Creek, but Daly hit out to within 15 feet.

"It was the shot of the day," said Daly, unbothered by the fact that he missed the putt for par.

It wasn't Daly's best opening-round score in the Masters -- he shot a 2-under-par 70 in 1993, when he finished tied for third -- but it might have been his best first round given the way he's played recently.

"The way the course used to be set up, 72 might be disappointing," he said. "The way it's set up today, there are not a lot of easy holes."

Lehman searches for draw

Tom Lehman's comeback also continues, but the former British Open champion is still missing a big part of his game: the draw shot that turned his once floundering career around back in 1993.

"My bread-and-butter shot is my draw, and when you can't hit that, you're in trouble," said Lehman, who managed a 1-over-par 73 yesterday.

Lehman, 40, has struggled at times with his game since winning the British Open and tour championship two years ago, when he was the PGA Tour's Player of the Year. A shoulder injury that required surgery last fall didn't help.

"I'm trying to get back to full strength," said Lehman, who didn't start playing again until the Andersen Consulting World Championship in January, where he reached the third round. "I'm still a little weak. I'm not hitting it very well."

Lehman has been in contention in the Masters twice, finishing tied for third in 1993 and second to Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994. He also finished tied for 12th two years ago, but missed the cut for the first time last year after shooting an opening-round 80.

"I had the flu and I had no energy," he recalled. "Last year was one to forget."

Flu keeps Kuchar down

Former U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar, who finished tied for 21st here last year,. was still suffering from the effects of the flu and shot an opening-round 77. Kuchar, a junior at Georgia Tech, didn't seem shocked.

"Last year, I had a lot more fun and I was playing a lot better," said Kuchar, who shot an opening-round 72 a year ago while playing with Tiger Woods. "I was more in a fairy-tale world. This year, being sick kind of took the fairy tale out of it."

Today's tee times

8: 15 a.m. -- Gary Player, Trevor Immelman, Steve Stricker.

8: 26 a.m. -- Ben Crenshaw, Tom McKnight, Loren Roberts.

8: 37 a.m. -- Seve Ballesteros, Hal Sutton, Billy Mayfair.

8: 48 a.m. -- Jeff Maggert, Vijay Singh, Payne Stewart.

8: 59 a.m. -- Nick Faldo, Brian Watts, Joe Durant.

9: 10 a.m. -- Fuzzy Zoeller, Jumbo Ozaki, and Fred Funk.

9: 21 a.m. -- Arnold Palmer, John Miller and Willie Wood.

9: 32 a.m. -- Bernhard Langer, Mark Calcavecchia, Darren Clarke.

9: 43 a.m. -- Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Jesper Parnevik.

9: 54 a.m. -- Lee Janzen, John Cook, Frank Lickliter.

10: 05 a.m. -- Jay Haas, Billy Andrade, Thomas Bjorn.

10: 16 a.m. -- Mark O'Meara, Hank Kuehne, Lee Westwood.

10: 27 a.m. -- David Duval, Nick Price, Bob Tway.

10: 38 a.m. -- Charles Coody, Brandt Jobe, Per-Ulrik Johansson.

10: 49 a.m. -- Mark Brooks, Stewart Cink, David Toms.

11 a.m. -- Paul Azinger, Jim Furyk, Glen Day.

11: 11 a.m. -- Billy Casper, Gay Brewer, Doug Ford.

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