Daly exorcises demons new, old to win Open


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- So many demons. John Daly has beaten booze. He has struggled through the headaches and sugar rushes of sobriety. He has fought the habit of giving up in mid-golf round. He has weathered three suspensions from the PGA Tour because of behavioral problems. He and his reputation have felt the chill of cold shoulders from his peers.

So it follows that yesterday, in the 124th British Open, at the birthplace of golf, in wind that gusted at 52 mph, Daly found himself in a position where he again needed to overcome. Overcome the loss of a three-stroke lead on the last five holes at the St. Andrews Old Course. Overcome Costantino Rocca's shocking, dramatic 65-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that forced a four-hole playoff. Overcome the swing of emotions he took into the extra holes.

So it was. So he did.

"After all the stuff I've gone through," Daly said, "to win a major championship sober is unbelievable. I've come through an awful lot."

The 1991 PGA champion, long on drives and suddenly long on patience, won his second Grand Slam title by shooting 71 for 6-under-par 282 and then beating Rocca, 15 strokes (1 under par) to 19, in the four-hole playoff.

In doing so, Daly, 29, became the second U.S. player in 12 years to win the British, the first since Mark Calcavecchia in 1989. He joined Payne Stewart as the only Americans under age 40 with more than one major title. He contributed to America's only sweep of the year's first three majors since 1982. And he got his name on the Claret Jug trophy alongside a Hall of Fame group of Open winners at St. Andrews that includes Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros and Peter Thomson.

"There are some unbelievable names on here," Daly said, inspecting the inscriptions. "Just to be a part of it, I don't know what to say."

The scoreboard said this: Daly and Italy's Rocca, who closed with a 73, finished one shot ahead of American Mark Brooks (71), done in by a double-bogey at the 16th after driving into a pot bunker; third-round leader Michael Campbell of New Zealand, who made four bogeys between Nos. 5-11; and PGA European Tour journeyman Steve Bottomley of England, whose surprising 69 featured birdie bombs of 75 and 66 feet.

"No way I'd be here [as champion] if I was still drinking," said Daly, who went through alcohol rehabilitation in January 1993. "This is amazing. I'm happy to be playing the tour with some of the stuff I've done."

Daly came to St. Andrews as a 66-1 long shot.

He came after taking three weeks off because of migraine headaches he links to the body changes of a recovering alcoholic.

He came having had no top-10 finishes in 1995.

But he came with a long-ball game that overpowered the Old Course and won over the galleries. And he came with a new attribute.

"Patience," he said. "That was the main thing."

While other contenders were backing up, making wind-blown bogeys, Daly made three front-nine birdies, at Nos. 4, 7 and 8, to pull even with Campbell at 8-under par. Daly had started the day four shots behind Campbell, the little-known New Zealander. But by time Daly reached the 13th hole, he had a three-stroke advantage.

But when he three-putted 16 for his first bogey, his lead shrunk to two shots. And when he sent his 6-iron approach six inches behind the five-foot-high wall of the Road Bunker and bogeyed 17, his lead at 6-under slipped to one stroke over Rocca, Brooks, Bottomley and Steve Elkington.

Despite the hiccups, Daly seemed a certain winner when Rocca, in the last twosome, chunked a pitch shot short of the 18th fringe, into the Valley of Sin swale, some 65 feet short of the pin. "I lost my head," Rocca said. "I thought it cost me everything."

Daly apparently concurred. He hugged his wife, Paulette.

But then Rocca, the tragic figure of the 1993 Ryder Cup when he missed a 30-inch putt, pulled off something of a miracle. He sank the 65-foot uphill putt to force the playoff. Then he fell to his knees, pounded the ground, lay on his stomach for 30 seconds, got up and cried.

"That moment was unbelievable," Rocca said.

"That must be the best shot in the history of the championship," Campbell said.

"When Costantino made that putt, my heart sunk," Daly said.

Then something happened that meant the world to Daly.

Fellow Americans Corey Pavin, Brad Faxon and Bob Estes came up and tried to fire him up. Brooks lent his yardage book because Daly misplaced his. The support was significant because, only a year ago, Daly was a tour outcast after he was quoted as saying some tour players use drugs. "John Daly should go back under the rock he came out from," Curtis Strange said.

Less than two months later, Daly took a so-called "voluntary" four-month leave from the tour after driving into the group in front of him and getting into a parking-lot scuffle at the World Series of Golf.

"He was rock bottom," said Daly's agent, Bud Martin.

But now his fellow U.S. golfers were telling him, in his words, "Hey, man, go get 'em. It ain't over yet. You can do it. They told me to bring the championship back home."

Armed with such encouragement, Daly went out and dominated Rocca in the playoff.

Rocca fell one shot back by three-putting No. 1. Daly went two strokes up by sinking a 40-foot birdie putt at No. 2. Then Rocca took three shots to get out of the Road Bunker in triple-bogeying 17.

And so John Daly, now a four-time winner, was left to celebrate.

In 1991, when he won the PGA, his long party featured liquor and a limousine. This time, the man who devoured chocolate-chip muffins all week, the man who had five chocolate croissants for Sunday breakfast, had a different plan.

"I'm going to go eat," the British Open champion said.

Someone asked how hard it would be not to fill the jug with something strong and he said, "It's not hard at all now.

"I'm just happy to be playing tournament golf now after some of the things I've done, the problems I've caused. I'm trying my [butt] off to regain some of the friendships I've lost out here. I'm trying to do the right things off the course as well as on it."

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