Sport Golf

Saturday 17 March 2018

Daly revels in 'beautiful, crazy' Portrush mornings

Karl MacGinty

THE grey stubble on John Daly's jaw offered evidence of his early morning call.

Daly couldn't remember the last time he was drawn to play in the first group off at a tournament. Yet having to roll out of his bed at 5.30 yesterday morning to prepare for a 7.30 tee time wasn't a problem.

Are you a good early man, the American was asked. "I am now," he replied in a gravelly voice. "I get up when I used to get in, so it's perfect."

Daly still swings the driver like a 'Wild Thing' but, at age 46, he's leaner, fitter and probably more focused than at any other time in a turbulent career.

As he emerged satisfied from an early-morning deluge at the Irish Open with a first-round 70, Daly confirmed that, piece by piece, he's rebuilding his confidence.

Playing links golf certainly helps that process. Daly, who counts a Claret Jug won at St Andrews in 1995 among his two Major trophies, loves the creative challenge of seaside golf ... and he positively adores the British Open.

So the significance of the words he uttered yesterday should not be underestimated.

"It really would be a great Open Championship here," he said. "I feel like I'm playing the British Open this week, to tell you the truth. The atmosphere was unbelievable. We teed off on the 10th at 7.30 and when we got to 11, it was crazy. It was beautiful. It was great."

Portrush debutant Daly believes the 7143-yard Dunluce Links would pose a formidable par-70 challenge at the British Open. "I can see them changing nine and 10 into par fours (at present they're usually par fives)," he said. "That'd be brutal."

These days Daly divides his time between the Europe and the US PGA Tour, where he's received invites to play Greenbrier and John Deere in the run-up to the British Open at Lytham.

Without a full card on either side of the Atlantic, Daly plays fewer tournaments than he'd like, expressing disappointment at not being asked to play any events on the PGA Tour's West Coast swing in 2012, not even the Farmer's in San Diego, where he's a former champion.

One suspects Ashbourne assistant professional Mark O'Sullivan or Kerryman Mark Murphy would love to have Daly's problems -- let's rephrase that, his opportunities.

O'Sullivan grew up as a golfer with hopes of playing on Tour but settled down happily instead to study for his PGA Club Pro licence, sitting his final exams last week.

Yet Galway native O'Sullivan (31) yesterday rekindled his dream of playing in the big time when he shot a superb first-round 68 on his European Tour debut at Royal Portrush, a course he knows so well.

Murphy, 34 and now living in New Orleans, earned his place at Portrush by winning the Golf Channel's 'Big Break' at the K Club last winter. He grabbed this infrequent opportunity with both hands yesterday, posting a polished 69.

• Tiger Woods endured a frustrating opening round at the AT&T National Tournament last night as a one-over par round of 72 left him five shots off the lead held by Bo van Pelt

Irish Independent

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