POTOMAC -- With a first-round leader board filled mostly by unknowns and all-but-forgotten players, the $1.3 Kemper Open lived down to its advance billing yesterday. It also lost its biggest draw.
About the most significant news to come out of the Tournament Players Club at Avenel wasn't that New Zealander Grant Waite took the lead at 5-under-par 66, but that John Daly was disqualified after failing to sign his score card.
The disqualification of Daly, who finished second here last year, came after the former PGA champion shot a 6-over-par 77 (including a 40 on his final nine holes) and tossed his score card aside.
After consulting with his agent, Daly appealed to both tournament and PGA Tour officials for reinstatement. In accordance with tour rules, which state a player's score card must be signed immediately after the round by the player and a playing partner, Daly's request was denied.
"He said, 'I forgot to sign,' " said Glenn Tait, a PGA Tour official who made the decision. "I said, 'John, you understand the consequences.' He was very nice about it."
Asked if he questioned Daly's motive for not signing his score card, Tait said, "Personally, I did not hold any inquisition. It's not my position to find out."
Except for his agent, John Mascatello, and his wife, Bettye, nobody else will likely find out either, because Daly declined several requests for interviews and left within a half-hour after the incident.
The departure of Daly left the nearly faceless tournament looking for a star or an emerging one on which to hang its hopes for big crowds and big ratings. By the look of things, they were hard to find.
"I'm, of course, disappointed that John won't be here for the weekend," Ben Brundred Jr., the tournament's general chairman, said of a player who is in the midst of a well-publicized battle with alcoholism.
"I hope he comes back. I'm sure he will."
Not that this year's Kemper is without touching stories. It could be called the Comeback Open for the number of players trying to revive their sagging careers, or get their careers going.
Among those at 4-under 67 was Tim Simpson, a former top 10 player whose game has deteriorated the past two years because of a prolonged bout with Lyme disease and a back problem caused by a freakish accident at a recent tournament.
Among those at 3-under 68 was Tony Sills, whose 11-year career has been plagued similarly by serious illness and injury; also 1990 Player of the Year Wayne Levi.
Defending champion Bill Glasson shot an opening round of 3-over-par 74.
"I want to keep improving, keep getting better," said Simpson, who nearly didn't make his morning tee time after being awakened yesterday by shooting pain in his lower back. "I don't think I'm ready to win yet, but I'll be out there clawing and scratching."
After winning four tournaments in an 18-month period ending in 1990, Simpson began playing poorly and feeling worse. After consulting with several doctors, Simpson was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which results in a wide spectrum of central nervous system disorders.
Simpson said he was incapable of performing the simplest of tasks, including brushing his teeth. His career went predictably downhill, to the point that he considered quitting the tour last summer.
With medication, Simpson has been able to have better control of the disease. But his back trouble, which began when he fell backward into a bunker last month while lining up a putt at The Heritage Classic, further curtailed his comeback.
"It seems like it's been one thing or another," said Simpson, whose best finish this year was a tie for 20th at the Byron Nelson Classic, moving him up to 169th on the money list.
"People who don't know me think I'm a hypochondriac."
Sills also has heard that label during his 11-year career. His physical problems make Simpson's seem almost minor. He was diagnosed with ulcerous colitis while in college, underwent a series of operations that resulted in the removal of some intestinal organs and played his rookie year on tour with a colostomy bag.
After having a pouch surgically implanted, Sills seemed to be getting his career on track with a victory at the 1990 Independent Insurance Agent Open.
A year later, Sills was hit with another setback when his car was back-ended by a fully-loaded Mack truck at a tournament in Williamsburg, Va.
"I'm a walking medical history," said Sills, who suffered a concussion and back problems that caused him to miss six months and fall from 61st on the money list to 238th last year.
After his two-year exemption from qualifying ran out after last year, Sills had to rely on sponsor's exemptions to play this year. He had played in only three events and was at a Nike Tour stop in Dayton, Ohio, earlier this week when he found out that he had gotten into the Kemper as the 10th alternate.
"I got in at 8 last night. I played fairly well for having jet lag," Sills said.
Daly didn't have that excuse. Or that kind of round. As he got into a waiting car early last night in front of the clubhouse, a fan who knew of his round, but hadn't learned of his disqualification offered encouragement.
"You'll get 'em tomorrow, John," the fan said.
The car drove off and with it, the biggest draw of a nearly faceless Kemper.
The leader . . .
Grant Waite ...... ..... 33-33-66
, . . . and selected followers
David Toms ...... ...... 36-31-67
Jeff Maggert .... ...... 33-34-67
Kelly Gibson .... ...... 33-34-67
Ed Fiori ........ ...... 34-33-67
Tim Simpson ..... ...... 34-33-67
Bob Estes ....... ...... 35-33-68
Brad Faxon ...... ...... 35-33-68
Wayne Levi ...... ...... 33-35-68
Bill Murchison .. ...... 34-34-68
Tim Conley ...... ...... 34-34-68
J. C. Anderson .. ...... 35-33-68
Tony Sills ...... ...... 36-32-68
Tommy Armour III ....... 34-34-68
Donnie Hammond .. ...... 36-34-70
Tom Kite ........ ...... 34-36-70
Curtis Strange .. ...... 36-35-71
Fred Funk ....... ...... 36-35-71
Mark Calcavecchia ...... 35-38-73
Bill Glasson .... ...... 38-36-74
John Daly ....... ...... DQ