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John Daly remains the fans favourite

No other player in the game could have triggered wider public sympathy in the agony of defeat than people's champion John Daly.

When his missed putt from just three feet on the second playoff hole cost him the chance of victory at the WGC-American Express Championship on Sunday, San Francisco's Harding Park Golf Course was jolted into stunned silence.

World number one Tiger Woods, gifted a 10th WGC individual title by Daly's gaffe, could hardly believe his eyes.

Having just missed a 25-foot birdie putt at the same hole before watching Daly fail to convert a birdie attempt from 15 feet, he took off his cap and covered his eyes with his right hand.

The massed galleries who had pumped up the decibel level as they followed the sudden-death playoff between the two biggest draws on the PGA Tour were silenced.

Blue-collar favourite Daly, a twice major winner and recovering alcoholic, had made all the running for most of the final day at Harding Park.

That he failed to clinch his sixth PGA Tour career win was down to his Achilles' heel for much of the 2005 season, his putting.

"I three-putted 17 (from 30 feet) before the 72 holes was up, and the green on 17 was a lot quicker than any green all day," Daly told reporters. "Otherwise I think I probably would have won.

"It's discouraging to lose that way, to fight like I did and I really didn't hit the ball that great, just to give myself an opportunity to win or be in the playoff.

"But I don't think I threw it away. I did on the second putt, but in regulation play I really didn't. I played my heart out."

The 39-year-old American, renowned for his prodigious length off the tee and a deft touch around the greens, has struggled with his putter for most of this year.

He languishes in 127th place in the PGA Tour putting averages, which measure putts per green in regulation, and lies 153rd in putts per round.

"It's been a horrible putting year, and when you don't have a lot of confidence in your putter -- especially when you have a chance to win -- instead of feeling like you're going to make them, I didn't feel like I was going to make them," he said.

"For me to be where I am on the money list after this is remarkable, because I have had the worst putting year of my life," added Daly, who climbed 40 spots to 77th in the standings with his $750,000 second prize.

"I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to have to change or do something."

For all his putting frailties, though, Daly will never lack the support of the crowds.

The "Wild Thing", as he is popularly known in the United States, has always been a huge draw card with his 'grip it and rip it' approach to the game and booming drives off the tee.

Fans have related to the chain-smoking, Diet Coke drinking Daly, who has become equally well known for his off-course battles.

A self-confessed "late maturer in life", he rediscovered his love for golf following years of drinking, gambling and even thoughts of suicide after two spells in alcohol rehabilitation centres.

The 1995 British Open champion managed to put all of that behind him, giving up on the booze and casinos, and has achieved a settled relationship with his fourth wife Sherrie.

Daly's successful comeback from those bitter struggles has endeared him even more to the fans. Whether in defeat or victory, he will always have the fans.

October 11, 2005

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