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John Daly thinner, but so are his chances of winning lately

At 43, John Daly needs sponsor’s exemptions, like the one for next week’s Transitions Championship, to enter PGA events.

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At 43, John Daly needs sponsor’s exemptions, like the one for next week’s Transitions Championship, to enter PGA events.

If you haven't seen John Daly lately, you're in for a shock.

The 43-year-old Daly who will show up this week at the Transitions Championship bears little resemblance to the Daly who played at Innisbrook two years ago.

He has dropped more than 100 pounds, thanks to Lap-Band surgery in February 2009, performed by Clearwater doctor Tiffany Jessee. He moved from Arkansas to Clearwater in December to be with his girlfriend, Anna Cladakis. He swears he doesn't drink nearly as much, and he wears clothes so bright you'll need sunglasses.

Call it John Daly 2.0.

"I don't look back. I don't have to," Daly said Thursday by phone from Puerto Rico, where he's playing this weekend in the PGA Tour even. "I've wasted some time in the past, but whenever I start to get down about it I just keep telling myself that I have two majors. How many guys can say that?"

To hear him tell it, the past is the past. And what a past it has been. For every positive (1991 PGA Championship, 1995 British Open) there has been a negative (a drunken night at a Winston-Salem, N.C., Hooters in 2008 and a six month PGA Tour suspension to start the 2009 season, to name just a few). The PGA has a 456-page personnel file on Daly.

There are certainly some things in the past he would change, but Daly's focus now is salvaging a career before it's too late.

"Of all the things that have happened to me in the past, some of it my fault, some of it not, I've got to keep telling myself that I have two majors. I've got to go with that," said Daly, who now plays out of Belleair Country Club.

"This game will drive you crazy, man. Everyone who has ever golfed knows that. But I hate the game too much to quit it."

That line sounds like it could be a title to one of his country music songs. The moment Daly went from alternate to PGA champion, his life has been "grip it and rip it.'' He has been married and divorced four times.

He seems to make headlines, good and bad, nearly everywhere he goes. The last time he played at Innisbrook, in the 2008 PODS Championship, he emerged from a Thursday rain delay with then-Bucs coach Jon Gruden as his caddie.

Days after the tournament, Daly's swing coach, Butch Harmon, quit in disgust. There are mulligans Daly says he'd like to take, but that isn't one of them.

"I wanted (Gruden) to caddie for me all (next) week (at the Transitions),'' Daly said. "But he's going to be working with quarterbacks. I'm playing with (Rays pitcher) James Shields on Monday (in the celebrity pro-am), so that should be cool."

These days, Daly's focus is on golf. His two major champion­ships each earned 10-year exemptions on the PGA Tour, but those exemptions are exhausted. The last of his five wins came at the 2004 Buick Invitational; he has $9,185,391 in career earnings. The only way into tournaments this year is through sponsor's exemptions.

That's how he is in the Transitions field, but over the next two weeks he is at the mercy of tournament directors at Bay Hill in Orlando and the Houston Open. He has name recognition in his favor, but it would also help if his game was in better shape.

He has played only 11 events since his suspension and made four cuts. Before this weekend's rain-delayed Puerto Rico Open, his world ranking was 445th.

Daly will spend the rest of the year in limbo, not knowing which tournaments will give him an exemption. He also will play in Europe, and if he doesn't do well on the PGA Tour this year, he says he will play even more in Europe in 2011.

Despite all of the incidents, and even a comment on his Golf Channel show, Being John Daly, where he threatened to quit the game, Daly still thinks there is something left in his much smaller tank.

"I still think the talent is there,'' he said. "I wouldn't be teeing it up if I didn't think I could compete. I've been working really hard on my game. But right now I just can't get anything going. It's hard to get momentum when you don't play very often.

"I'm the kind of guy who has to play four or five tournaments in a row to start feeling good. But I spent all last week in Clearwater and the weather wasn't good enough to get out, and now I'm in Puerto Rico and it's raining. That's just the way it's been going."

. fast facts

Transitions Championship

What: A 72-hole PGA Tour event

When/Where: Thursday-Sunday; Innisbrook Resort and Golf Course, Copperhead Course, Palm Harbor

Par/Yards: 71/7,340

Purse: $5,400,000 (winner's share $972,000)

Fed Ex Cup points: 500

Defending champion: Retief Goosen

Qualifying round: Monday at Fox Hollow Golf Club in Trinity

Schedule: Monday: Celebrity pro-am, Copperhead Course (free admission). Tuesday: Practice rounds ($10 admission at the gate). Wednesday: Transitions Championship pro-am, Copperhead Course ($10 admission at the gate). Thursday: First round (morning and afternoon tee times). Friday: Second round (morning and afternoon tee times). Saturday: Third round. Sunday: Final round

Tickets: Weekly badge: $79. Daily tickets: $30 in advance, $50 at gate. Kids 17 and under free. Call (727) 942-5566, go to transitionschampionship.com or e-mail office@thecopperheads.com. Tickets also available at Publix supermarkets.

Copperhead Pak (two one-day tickets, one daily parking pass, two rounds of golf on the Copperhead. $199). Patron Pak (two weekly badges, one parking pass). $179

Parking: Available at St. Petersburg College and along Belcher and Klosterman Roads

TV: Thursday-Friday, 3 p.m., Golf Channel; Saturday-Sunday, 3, Ch. 8

Noteworthy: The field includes three of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking: Steve Stricker (2), Ian Poulter (5) and Jim Furyk (7). … Monday and Wednesday are kid's days, with nearly 800 kids from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties receiving free eye exams from Transitions. … Monday's Shelton Quarles celebrity pro-am includes USF football coach Skip Holtz, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud, LPGA pro Brittany Lincicome and Rays pitcher James Shields. Professionals John Daly, Rocco Mediate and Pat Perez also are scheduled to compete.

John Daly thinner, but so are his chances of winning lately 03/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 9:44pm]
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