AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Before the Masters tee-off time arrived for John Daly, he worked the practice range. His presence stopped the other players in their own preparations as they paused to marvel at the momentous charge he was putting into the golf ball.
He lofted a shot over the 60-foot-high screen fence at the end of a 265-yard driving area. Tom Kite, testing his ailing back by easing into a swinging routine, smiled and said, "Isn't that fun to watch?" And the crowd screamed for more from the longest hitter the game has ever known.
Daly, personally, has himself together. The drinking problem is behind him. He shot an opening round of 2-under-par 70, and it sounds almost ambiguous, but he wasn't at his best from a playing standpoint.
Such an assessment only emphasizes how much ability is within his grasp. The opinion is that someday he's going to shoot a score in the Masters that will be beyond belief.
He needs to offer no apologies for a 70, but Daly is honest with himself. "I've constantly been turning what looks like bad rounds into even par," he said. "I'm getting it up and down. Last year, if I had played like this, it would have been an 80 instead of a 70. So I'm pleased."
Daly believes that with a different driver, which has a 7-degree loft instead of 9, he's actually knocking the ball 20 yards farther than last year, when he led the PGA Tour by averaging 283.1 yards off the tee.
Stop to consider that he's still only 26. His fight against a craving for alcohol, which created all types of problems, both private and public, has been seriously addressed. "I'm so focused on golf and on my life that it makes me feel good," he said.
Asked if he could provide some advice that we might convey to a friend with a drinking dependency, he answered with an almost diligent enthusiasm:
"You have to stop saying I should or I shouldn't. You must realize you can't. And you can't tell yourself you are going out tonight and will stop drinking tomorrow. I have it in my mind if I take a drink it's the same as shooting myself in the heart."
So here is Daly, who entered a rehabilitation center this past winter, being solicited for information that might help someone he doesn't even know. A new maturity seems to have come to this prodigious and talented slugger, who is aware he must learn self-control before anything good can happen.
Daly, who two years ago brought the PGA Championship to its knees by winning the event after entering as an alternate, has been smoking 2 1/2 packs of cigarettes a day and devours them on the golf course. He's also craving peanut-filled M & M's.
For right now, though, it's curing one vice at a time. "Just like with drinking," he said. "A ton of people can tell you not to do it, but a person has to make up their own mind."
Back to the golf. Daly, with a backswing that may produce a 110-degree turn, was paired with Dan Forsman, considered another long-ball hitter. When he wasn't bothered with tree trouble, Daly was consistently 30 or 40 yards past his partner.
Three times, on holes 9, 13 and 14, Daly had drives that caught the loblollies. He believed the recovery on the ninth, a 4-iron, was his best shot of the day.
"I only had about a yard opening through the trees [10 pines blocking his avenue of flight]," he said. "I could have chipped it out, but I went for it."
It was important to keep the ball low and he did, winding up slightly off the green and getting down in two putts to save par. That kept him stabilized and in good position going to the back nine.
But it wasn't until the 17th and 18th that he put birds back-to-back. On No. 18, measuring 405 yards uphill, he felt the 304-yard drive he contacted was close to the ultimate. Forsman was 70 yards behind, which only provided another perspective of his astonishing power.
Daly's strength is such that when he has a driver in his hand, it's not necessary to carry any other woods in his bag. Most of his contemporaries have a driver and two fairway woods, but they would be superfluous for Long John, so why even bring them? Instead, he has three different wedges, with varying degrees of loft for short shots with separate and distinct demands.
"I think I can play this course," he said in the locker room. "If I drop a couple 10-foot putts, it would build my confidence and get me rolling."
Last year, despite domestic controversy swirling about him, he played Augusta National in a respectable manner with rounds of 71-71-73-68. Now he opens with a 70 this time around.
Hopefully, as a more important consideration, he'll be able to maintain sobriety and keep his life in order. Anything after that, including a victory in the Masters, will be a reward for walking a straight and narrow fairway that he so intently wants to follow.