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John Daly still the golf fans favourite

One New Yorker said it brought tears to his eyes to see John Daly win, the first time he felt that kind of emotion since the 1980 U.S. hockey team won the gold medal.

Another fan in San Diego wrote that, ridiculous as it may sound, he hasn't watched golf with this much interest since Jack Nicklaus made a Sunday charge at Augusta National in 1986 to win his sixth green jacket.

A Canadian called Daly an ambassador to the game.

These are among thousands of e-mails from around the world that poured into the PGA Tour's Web site in the days after the 2004 Buick Invitational, all because of an out-of-shape, chain-smoking, beer-guzzling, on-his-fourth-marriage, good ol' boy from Arkansas who found a way to win again.

Clearly, Daly packs an appeal unlike any other player.

"He's done some things that he wishes he wouldn't have done. He's done some things the tour wishes he wouldn't have done," Dennis Paulson said. "But he has a heart of gold, he really does."

And this from Chris Riley, just minutes after his short birdie putt lipped out and denied him a chance to win on the golf course where he grew up.

"John Daly, what a great story for golf," Riley said.

Daly's playoff victory in the Buick Invitational was his first on the PGA Tour in eight years and six months. Before he could leave Torrey Pines, he was getting requests to appear on just about everything from CNN to the "Tonight Show."

"Mike and the Mad Dog," a sports radio show on WFAN in New York that usually sticks to the major sports, devoted 30 minutes to Daly's win -- at a time when the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez and the Knicks traded for Tim Thomas.

The only other player who causes this kind of buzz is Tiger Woods, and he wins so frequently that it has to be a major for this many people to get excited.

There is nothing dull about Daly.

He strikes a nerve with common people because so many of them can relate -- the battles with his weight, the drinking, the depression, three ex-wives, a federal drug investigation involving his fourth wife.

"Everybody goes through ups and does in life," Daly said. "Mine just happen to be talked about a lot."

Daly is not the only guy who pays alimony. He is not the only one who has spent hours standing in front of a slot machine or sitting at the blackjack table.

Alcoholics Anonymous hands out anniversary coins to commemorate how long people stay sober. After Daly returned from his second stint at rehab, fans gave him their AA coins after every round for him to use as ball markers, and Daly wound up with quite a collection.

In an era when most athletes guard their privacy, Daly is not afraid to talk about his troubles.

He gave up a $3 million endorsement contract in 1999 when he resumed drinking, a sensitive subject for most players. Daly was asked what he had for dinner.

"I had four Miller Lites and a big chimichanga," he said.

Daly has done enough inconsiderate things in golf to cost him fan support.

He was paid big appearance money to play in Australia, and rewarded tournament organizers and fans by playing the third round in just over two hours and shooting an 83.

He once accused other players of using drugs.

He hit into the group ahead of him twice during one round at the old World Series of Golf, then scuffled with a player's 62-year-old father, who had told him to grow up.

Daly's sins on the golf course don't seem so bad compared to the troubles he faces off it.

Woods wins four straight majors and people wonder if he's human. Daly has the shakes, breaks down and cries on the 15th green in Vancouver, and people know he's human.

Vijay Singh gets criticism for speaking his mind. Daly gets forgiveness.

There is more to his appeal than overcoming so many setbacks.

His game is a big attraction because of sheer power. Everyone digs the long ball.

Most players warm up by hitting a few wedges and finishing with the driver. When Daly first played in the Skins Game, he walked out to the range, heard the anticipation from the grandstand, ripped off his head cover and started bashing drivers with his infamous "grip-it-and-rip-it" style.

The sixth hole at Winged Foot is a short par 4 that can be reached only with a long, perfect tee shot. The smart play is an iron off the tee, and that's what Daly had in mind at the 1997 PGA Championship.

The gallery egged him on to use his driver, and the roar was deafening when Daly replaced the iron and pulled out the big club. Never mind that his tee shot went into a rain shelter and led to a double-bogey.

Daly is always trying to please, and sometimes that gets him into trouble -- on and off the course. The dividend is unconditional support.

"They have kept me going and going," Daly said. "When things are bad, they still pull for me. It's a friendship that I'm very proud to have with the fans.

"The drunk ones, the sober ones, I love them all."

And they love him.

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