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Fascination with John Daly continues

John Daly always seems to show up when no one expects him.

Daly resurrected his career again Sunday in the Buick Invitational, winning a full-field tournament on U.S. soil for the first time in 10 years and capturing his first PGA Tour event since the 1995 British Open.

Even harder to predict is where he goes from here.

Daly moved up from No. 299 in the world ranking to No. 85 on Monday, high enough for him to start thinking about Augusta National. The top 50 in the world and the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list after The Players Championship (March 29) qualify for the Masters, his favorite tournament.

He won $864,000 -- more than he earned the last two years combined -- and is No. 6 on the money list.

``A lot of good things can happen out of it,'' Daly said after his playoff victory over Chris Riley and Luke Donald. ``Hopefully, I can just stay consistent and stay positive, and hopefully do it again.''

But whenever Daly gets on track, a train wreck is just waiting to happen.

By now, his troubles have become legendary.

Three ex-wives. Drinking binges that led him to alcohol rehab twice. Trashed hotel rooms. Forty-three rounds in the 80s, and more missed cuts than cashed checks.

But he always bounces back, which is one reason he has become so beloved among galleries.

``All week they've just been unreal,'' Daly said, referring to the fans at Torrey Pines. ``The drunk ones, the sober ones -- I love them all. And they have kept me going. When things are bad, they still pull for me.''

When things are good, they go nuts.

The gallery sounded as if it belonged at the Daytona 500, not the prim and proper PGA Tour, as they chased Daly around the South course.

``One guy said, 'Put the cows in the barn.' I'm from Arkansas, and I'm still not sure what that means,'' Daly said Saturday. ``I knew it was a compliment, so it was kind of cool.''

Still, Daly can be more than just a freak show.

He is not a two-time major champion by accident.

``Nine years without winning on this Tour, you could never tell with him playing that last hole,'' Donald said.

Daly still has power.

Facing a 571-yard hole that requires length and accuracy to have any chance of getting home in two, Daly stepped quickly to his ball, took the club back so far he could almost scratch the back of his knee, and unleashed a drive that left him only 263 yards from the flag.

With a pond protecting the green, Daly never gave it another thought and blasted a 3-wood that kept thousands of fans lining the gallery in suspense until it hopped into a bunker some 100 feet from the cup.

With Donald and Riley both poised to make birdie, Daly blasted out to 4 inches for a tap-in birdie, then broke down when his opponents narrowly missed their putts.

It was Daly at his finest, in control of his awesome talent.

``Most people, when they think of John Daly, they think of length,'' Donald said. ``I've played with him a couple of times. He has the best touch around the greens as any player.''

Riley is one of the best putters in golf, and he was equally impressed.

``What touch he has for a guy who hits the ball a long ways,'' Riley said. ``That's why he's won his majors. He has great hands.''

So why hasn't Daly won more than five times on the PGA Tour during his 14-year career?

``I don't feel like I'm an underachiever because I've won two majors,'' Daly said. ``I feel like I should have been in more positions to win. The problem with my career is I haven't been in those last three or four groups consistently. That's something I'm striving on this year.

``One of my biggest goals this year was not to shoot over par in a round.''

That lofty goal fell apart Sunday, when his 75 was the highest final-round score by a PGA Tour winner since Steve Pate had a 75 in the 1991 Honda Classic.

Then again, the final threesome was 14 over par. The South course is no pushover and will host the 2008 U.S. Open. Daly made only one bogey the previous two days during rounds of 66-68 that gave him the lead.

Daly was particularly proud that he finally won a PGA Tour event with Tiger Woods in the field. What he really wants is to be in the hunt as often as Woods.

Next up for Daly is the Nissan Open at Riviera, but he wasn't even looking that far ahead.

``It's a step,'' he said. ``I'm just going to take each week at a time.''

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