Big John larger than life

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

BANFF -- Mildly amused at having to use an ancient hickory stick to clear Banff Springs' legendary Devil's Cauldron, John Daly scowled when his shot fell left of the target.

"That's as bad as getting back together with an ex-wife," mumbled Daly, tossing aside the dated kindling.

When Stephen Ames suggested the chain-smoking big man had four exes to choose from, Daly clarified his situation.

"Not quite -- there are three," said Daly, whose current bride just finished serving five months in prison for her part in a drug ring and illegal gambling operation.

"But the fourth might be right around the corner."

Ames may have received the biggest cheque and Jack Nicklaus easily drew the biggest cheers but Daly was the biggest hit at the Telus Skins Game yesterday.

Whether he was walking down the sixth hole with a Jack and Coke (that's Jack Nicklaus and a Diet Coke), teeing off in the midst of his opening introduction or stepping on Sergio Garcia's tee as the Spaniard tried retrieving it, all eyes were on Long John as he tried in vain to pocket a little casino cash.

Despite rumbling around the course with a Marlboro Light in hand and a look on his face that suggested he'd rather be in rehab again, the once-jocular Hooters pitchman led the loop in drawing primal hoots and hollers from a sold-out gallery.

Refusing to take practice swings or wait for the gallery to stop cheering a previous shot, the 40-year-old poster boy for excess spent the afternoon out-driving Garcia, Nicklaus, Ames and Greg Norman on all but one hole (Sergio got him by two yards on the opening bomb). However, after missing putts of three and six feet that could have put big dents in Ames' six-skin windfall, Daly admitted he wasn't having much fun out there even if all his fans were.

That was evident on the par-5 fifth hole when a fan punctuated Daly's wayward tee shot with empty promises the ball would bounce back into the fairway.

"Who gives a s---?" barked the star of the Golf Channel's reality show, Daly Planet. "If I was drinking, I'd be winning."

The crowd loved it.

"I'm putting worse than I ever have, so it makes it hard to enjoy," admitted Daly after a round that saw him contribute just one of nine birdies over the first nine holes, en route to what could be his first Canadian Skins shutout in seven appearances.

It's a familiar refrain for the mulleted Memphis resident whose putting woes and volatility are as well known as his inability to turn down a drink or pass by a slot machine.

In a world of white-gloved country club elite, he is pure white trash, which is why his recent autobiography, My Life in And Out of the Rough, has been so popular.

"It just got a lot of stuff off my chest -- it was very therapeutic," said Daly, who, in the book, documents the millions he's lost in casinos worldwide.

"Going through my tax receipts made me realize how much I've lost. I was dumbfounded."

Signing hats all day long and tossing them back over his shoulder without looking, the man who sprung onto the golf scene by winning the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate is now golf's biggest cartoon character. And that's fine with him.

They'll never be able to take away the fact he's one of only a few people in golf history to win two majors before age 30. While that won't help him sink a five-footer for $20,000 on the back nine today, such common struggles are a big part of what make him one of the most popular golfers alive.


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