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There was something different about John Daly at the PGA
Championship, and it wasn't just the funny cap, the slim
waistline and the rediscovered resolve on the course. What had
changed was the response Daly generated. Gone was the pumped-up
machismo, the testosterone-fueled fans bellowing You da man! and
the caddie shouting Kill! on every tee. Daly is no longer
engulfed by the hysteria that accompanies larger-than-life folk
heroes. Instead he receives softly spoken encouragement and
measured applause, an acknowledgment by his many fans that this
most human of athletes has been to the brink and made it back.
Again. "I can feel the difference," Daly said after a
second-round 73, which was sandwiched between an opening 66 and
a 77-70 weekend that left him six over par and in 29th place.
"They're cheering for me as a person, not a golfer. It means
everything to me to feel that."

That Daly was greeted warmly is no surprise, considering that he
has been welcomed back so many times before. With his hangdog
countenance and puppy-dog eyes, little-boy sweetness and
swashbuckling on-course style, Daly, 31, has always been
likable, and remains so. His conduct since bursting onto the
scene with his storybook win at the 1991 PGA has ranged from
regrettable to deplorable, but what separates Daly from the
Michael Irvins of the world is an obsession with atonement. He
is addicted to making things right in his life. Getting his golf
game in shape is only a small part of that. Still, this was
Daly's most meaningful performance since his victory at the Old
Course in St. Andrews in the '95 British Open. He tussled with
Winged Foot for every stroke.

"There was a time when he was going through the motions and
really didn't care. You don't see that now," said Paul Azinger,
one of Daly's playing partners for the first two rounds. "He was
competitive. He cared. He cared greatly. You could see it in his
eyes and his attitude. It was a noticeable difference."

These days there is less of Daly to admire, and that, too, is
good news. He weighs 195 pounds, down from a high of 238 in
March. This is the result of an intensive fitness regimen and
fun-free diet that began after Daly walked off the course at
Congressional midway through the second round of the U.S. Open,
unable to go on because of his physical condition and the shakes
that came with a sobriety he had rediscovered in the spring.

It is his tango with the bottle--Daly started drinking before he
was a teenager--that marred his past, defines his present and
clouds his future. His most recent such transgression occurred
on March 27, when he withdrew after the first round of the
Players Championship following a late-night binge so excessive
that it landed him in a hospital. Two days later he checked into
the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, Calif. On April 8 his
third wife, Paulette, filed for divorce. On his birthday, April
28, Daly was dumped by his primary sponsor, Wilson. (He was in
the middle of a 10-year, $30 million deal.) "The darkest days of
my life," he says.

So far Daly has thrown himself into his new sobriety, going to
as many as four Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week and reading
from the organization's handbook at least twice a day. Such
activities are a stark departure from his previous attempts to
stay dry, when he resisted any outside help. In retrospect it's
not surprising that he failed, only that it took him so long to
do so. "I wasn't doing it the right way," he says. "I wasn't
going to meetings. I wasn't doing the reading. I wasn't talking
to anybody about things. I didn't take my condition seriously

When Daly returned to the Tour at Hartford in late July, he
received about 30 sobriety medals--given to AA members to mark
various milestones of their sobriety--from fans who have been
down the same road. Daly uses the medals as ball markers and
sources of inspiration. "When I look down there on the green, it
reminds me: Hey, you're all right," he says. "I need that
reminding all the time." Daly wears his own coin on a chain
around his neck. On one side it has the number 24 (for 24 hours
a day of sobriety) and on the other the serenity prayer. For yet
another reminder, he has adorned his golf bag with the words GOD

"He has tried hard to level off his emotions, on and off the
golf course," says Brian Alexander, Daly's caddie. "So far it
has worked, instead of him going real high and real low like he
used to." Indeed, Daly did an admirable job of maintaining his
composure on a brutal Winged Foot layout, with two exceptions:
On the 12th hole last Saturday he blocked his tee shot onto the
adjacent 17th fairway and threw his Big Bertha driver into the
woods, where it was retrieved by marshals. On Sunday he got into
an argument with an official after being denied a drop from
behind a rain shelter on the 6th hole.

Daly's inconsistent play was due more to the rust on his game
than major-championship pressure. He has played little since
March and is breaking in new clubs, the result of a reported
five-year, $10 million deal with Callaway. "Everybody's been
telling me to be patient," he says, "to not hit so many balls.
I'm going to hit 'em until I feel better."

One of the more charming scenes of the week happened in the
Friday twilight, when Daly and Tiger Woods parked themselves
next to each other on the driving range. Both were going about
their business when, during a lull, Daly uncorked a thunderous
drive. As the thousand or so fans lining the range cheered, Daly
hit another, drawing an even more raucous whoop. With a faint
grin he glanced up at Woods, who had stopped hitting and was
leaning on his driver, hand on hip, watching the show. Woods
then turned to the crowd, flashed a smile and teed up a ball.
The fans roared. Woods brought the club back majestically
and...did a little half swing, bunting the ball 100 yards. Then
his practice session resumed in earnest. "I can learn a lot from
him," says Daly. "He handles himself so well."

The fascination with Daly and Woods goes beyond their nuclear
ball striking. They are parables in spikes, lessons on human
nature played out between the ropes. If anyone among us were to
awake one day young and talented and rich and famous, which is
exactly what happened to Daly and Woods, we would hope to be
more like Tiger. Daly, with his excesses, is what we fear we
would become. That's why we root for him, because he's one of
us, notwithstanding the fact that few of us have had three
wives, won $185,000 in a single night of playing blackjack or
busted up furniture like Roger Daltry in his prime. Tiger's too
cool, controlled, sophisticated. This undercurrent was palpable
throughout the PGA, and never more clearly than on the 16th hole
on Friday when a couple of teenagers caught Daly's eye as he
came off the tee. "Hey, John, screw Tiger," they shouted. Daly
couldn't quite swallow his smile.

Daly and Woods downplay the rivalry. In fact, they have been
friendly ever since being paired in 1990 at the Big I (Insurance
Youth Golf Classic National), when Woods was 14 and Daly was an
unknown 24-year-old on the Hogan tour. After Daly's opening 66
at the PGA, Woods said, "For him to go out there and have the
guts to shoot a number like that, that takes a lot of courage."

Daly received tons of encouragement last week, but when the kind
words died and the clapping faded, all that was left was the
voice inside his head, often set to the accompaniment of an
acoustic guitar. Recently, after a lonely night at home in
Memphis with nothing but his AA handbook and that guitar for
company, Daly was moved to write a song. It's called This Is My
Life, and the last verse goes like this:

I'm living one day at a time
Yes I'm doing just fine
This is my life, let it be known
This is my life, through the years I have grown
Please God don't give up on me
This is my life.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [John Daly golfing]

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY The message on his golf bag is just one of many Daly reminders. [John Daly]