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Archive for Monday, February 16, 2004

Daly ends drought in playoff

Unpredictable golfer claims first victory in nearly nine years

February 16, 2004

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— In life and in golf, no one ever knows what to expect from John Daly.

The latest surprise came Sunday at the Buick Invitational when Daly hit a 100-foot bunker shot to within four inches to win a three-man playoff, his first PGA Tour victory in nearly nine years.

It wasn't over until Chris Riley, who grew up playing Torrey Pines, watched in disbelief as his 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th rimmed all the way around the cup. Luke Donald earlier missed from six feet.

"It's the greatest," said Daly, who won $864,000 for his fifth PGA Tour victory. "I can't explain it. I've had a lot of ups and downs. Geez, this is sweet."

Daly had plenty of twists and turns in the final round, but nothing compared to his life off the course. Since winning the '95 British Open at St. Andrews -- his second major -- Daly has gone through another divorce, another trip to alcohol rehab and now waits to see what happens to his fourth wife, indicted last summer on drug and gambling charges five days after she gave birth to his first son.

He put all that behind him with a performance only he saw coming. Daly, No. 299 in the world rankings at the start of the week, closed with a 75, the highest final-round score by a PGA winner in 13 years.

Daly might not have made the playoff if not for his clutch short game. He got up-and-down from the bunker 10 out of 12 times during the week, no shot more important than the playoff.

For Riley, it was a bitter end. He grew up in San Diego, and this tournament means more to him than any other on the PGA Tour.

"I would have bet my life on that putt," he said.

Phil Mickelson birdied eight of his first 11 holes, closed with a 67 and was among six guys who finished one shot out of the playoff. Steve Flesch needed a birdie to make the playoff, but his wedge found the water on No. 18.

Tiger Woods was within two shots of the lead until his driver failed him at the worst time. He missed four straight fairways, took two bogeys and closed with a 69, two shots out of the playoff.

Woods tied for 10th, the first time in seven appearances at the Buick Invitational he has finished worse than fifth.

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