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John Daly counting on exemptions to play this year
January 6, 2010

John Daly already can count on playing in at least three U.S. PGA Tour events during the first two months of the season, quite a change from where he was a year ago.

Daly was in the early stages of a six-month suspension for conduct unbecoming a professional when the 2009 season started, and his future in golf was limited to tournaments in Australia and on the European Tour.

He will start at the Sony Open next week in Honolulu. He said he also received an exemption to the San Diego Open, and that he was in the 156-man field at Pebble Beach next month.

Even so, he was stunned that he did not receive an exemption to the Bob Hope Classic. The tournament gave its unrestricted spots to Rickie Fowler, Rocco Mediate, Jamie Lovemark and David Duval, who shot 59 in the final round of his 1999 victory. Another unrestricted exemption went to Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer.

“That was kind of a shocker they didn’t give me one,” Daly said on Monday. “I felt like I brought a lot of celebrity friends to that tournament. That was kind of a slap in the face. I supported that tournament for all those years. My feelings were hurt there.”

Daly didn’t mind that Palmer’s grandson received one because “those are Palmer’s courses” and the King was so connected to the Hope. He is hopeful of getting spots to Riviera and Phoenix, although he realizes tournaments have plenty of choices.

“It’s tough,” he said. “This is a year I really need favors from a lot of tournaments. I need some loving this year. That’s why I used to do all this stuff for the tournaments. It was always in my mind that I might need some help someday.”

Daly said his Florida swing already includes a start at the Transitions Championship at Innisbrook, where two years ago the two-time major champion was criticized for using former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden as a caddie for a few holes after a rain delay.

En route to Hawaii, Daly stopped by Ping to get fitted for some new irons, although a deal was not imminent and Daly said he was not in a hurry. He last played Ping when he won the 1991 U.S. PGA Championship.

Looking back, Daly said the suspension had its benefits. The time off led him to get lap-band surgery, and he has lost 115 pounds (52 kilograms) over the last nine months.

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