|Daly might be a long shot to win this week but that doesn't mean we won't be watching. (Getty Images)|
It has been 21 years since John Daly won the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. He did it as the ninth alternate (and even more improbably, while sporting that mustache and that mullet). In the span of 72 holes, Daly went from tour rookie to folk hero. He would win another major four years later in the British Open at St. Andrews but Daly's career in recent years has been a mixed bag of missed cuts and lost cards, sandwiched around glimpses of the kind of golf that made him so popular in the first place.
But this year has been different. In the past, Daly would shoot a 65 and follow it up with an 85; now he'll shoot a 68 and follow it up with a 69 (worth noting: he has just one round in the 80s all year). In 10 PGA Tour starts in 2012, he has made eight cuts and has three top-25 finishes and a top-10. All of this brings us to the 2012 PGA Championship, where Daly shot an opening-round 4 under, good for fifth on the leaderboard when he signed his card.
He made the turn at 2 under without a blemish on his card, and despite bogeys at No. 12 (par 4) and No. 14 (par 3), he eagled the par-5 11th, and birdied the 13th and 16th to shoot 34 on the back nine.
"All this year I've been really close to playing good golf," Daly said after his round. … "The British Open I probably hit it better there than all year but it was just hard to score. The putter's been working a little bit better and everything's just been solid."
So what does this mean for Daly's chances the rest of the week? Well, there's this via Ryan Ballengee of GolfNewsNet.com: "Since 1996, Daly has two rounds in the 60s at the PGA Championship -- the first round in the '97 edition at Winged Foot and an opening 67 at Southern Hills in 2007. He led at Winged Foot before closing with three rounds in the 70s to finish T-29. At Southern Hills, he fired three consecutive 73s to finish the week and end at T-32."
And Daly hasn't played particularly well on the weekends this season. But Kiawah Island hasn't put up much of a struggle for the field (and like Crooked Stick, it's a Pete Dye design). With benign conditions that favor long hitters, more than 30 players are under par midway through Round 1.
As it stands, Joost Luiten leads the field at 8 under (through 14) and Big John is four shots off the lead. Is he a long shot to win? Yeah, of course. But remember this: Two decades ago, he won this event as the longest shot (literally: the ninth alternate was also the final alternate).
Whatever happens, this much is certain: we'll be watching. Because Daly, much like Tiger Woods, is required viewing.
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