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John Daly having best ever season on PGA Tour

Despite two majors and celebrity status around the world for his feats on and off the golf course, John Daly is used to feeling left out. He has never played on a Ryder Cup team, despite winning the PGA Championship (1991) and British Open (1995) in Ryder Cup years. This might be his best chance to change that.

It's hard to imagine Daly doing anything quietly, especially with the raucous crowd that tags along wherever he plays, but he has managed to sneak into position for his best year on Tour.

``Definitely, the Ryder Cup is on my mind,'' Daly said Sunday after his runner-up finish in the Buick Open moved him up to No. 20 in the standings. ``I would love to be a part of that team. I feel like I could help the team the way I'm playing right now, solid as I'm hitting it. And I've got a little bit of confidence. I think that's what the captain would want.''

Daly would have to finish second at the PGA Championship next week to have any chance of getting into the top 10 and earning a spot on the team.

Still, U.S. captain Hal Sutton has reason to take notice.

Not only did Daly beat a world-class field at Torrey Pines earlier this year for his first U.S. victory on the PGA Tour in 10 years, but he has shown signs of being a complete player more than any other time in his career.

His runner-up finish to Vijay Singh at the Buick Open on Sunday was his fifth top-10 finish of the year, matching a career high set in 1992. He has earned $2.1 million -- Daly had never made more than $828,914 in a single season -- to climb to 14th on the money list, moving him closer to securing a spot in his first Tour Championship.

Remember those rounds where Daly seemed to give up? He has only one score in the 80s this year, and that was the final round of The Players Championship, when he had to go for broke in a bid to get into the Masters (he got in, anyway).

Daly has missed at least eight cuts in each of his previous 13 years on Tour. This year, the only two cuts he has missed were the Masters and the British Open.

And the latest PGA Tour statistics Monday indicate what kind of year he is having. Daly is No. 1 in the all-around ranking, a combination of eight key categories. He is third in driving distance and third in putting.

``I played with John many a times. Gosh, he hits the ball, and he chipped and putted, and his iron shots ... I don't think anyone else could have played any better than that,'' Singh said.

Daly took great pride winning in February at Torrey Pines, not only because he had not won in the United States since 1994, but because it was the first time he won with Tiger Woods in the field.

Equally meaningful was his runner-up finish Sunday at the Buick Open.

Daly started the final round two shots behind Singh, then erased that deficit with an explosive start that sent the pro-Daly gallery into a frenzy -- birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.

Only a player of Singh's ability could withstand that kind of pressure from Daly's game and his crowd. Singh figured he was headed for a playoff when he missed a 6-foot par putt on the final hole but got a reprieve when Daly misread his 5-footer for par to force a playoff.

``Hal will really have to look at his performance,'' Singh said. ``The way John was hitting the driver, gosh, it was not only long, but pretty straight, too. And he's rolling his ball. He should be considered. I don't know if he's going to be picked. There's a good chance, I think.''

Daly might be the people's choice, although Sutton has other choices to consider -- Jerry Kelly, Scott Verplank, Stewart Cink and Jay Haas are ahead of Daly in the standings and have proven themselves over the last two years.

If he is left off the team, it wouldn't be the first time.

His timing hasn't been the best.

For 10 years, the reigning PGA champion was an automatic selection to the Ryder Cup team. That changed in 1991, the year Daly went from the ninth alternate at Crooked Stick to the ultimate Cinderella story in golf by overpowering the field to win his first major.

He had gone 26 tournaments without a top 10 when he won the '95 British Open at St. Andrews. Daly needed to finish fifth at the PGA Championship that year to earn a spot on the team. He missed the cut at Riviera, and captain Lanny Wadkins went with experience by taking Fred Couples and Curtis Strange.

Daly's career has been too unpredictable to be an obvious captain's pick. He has been thinking about the Ryder Cup ever since winning in February, but he's not about to lobby Sutton.

``That's his decision,'' Daly said. ``I just know if I do get picked, I would be ready. And I'd love to play.''

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