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DALY FORGIVEN, BUT OTHER 'GOOD' GUYS ARE VILIFIED.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

A new form of excess was added to the John Daly record this week, to go with the golfer's drinking, overeating, chain-smoking, gambling losses, drinking, domestic discord, hotel vandalism, drinking, verbal outbursts and drinking.

After ending a nearly 10-year American-tour losing streak at Torrey Pines last Sunday, Daly came to Riviera Country Club for the Nissan Open embraced as the feel-good story of the young season.

Fans reached out to him. Opponents gushed. Reporters swooned.

So now who's guilty of overindulgence?

If this story gets any more sugarcoated, Daly is going to have it for breakfast before heading to the first tee at 10:10 this morning to try to begin a final-round rally from a tie for fifth place, eight shots behind leader Mike Weir.

``How could you root against him?'' golfer Briny Baird, one of the golfers chasing leader Mike Weir, said Friday. ``It's not good for golf, it's great for golf.''

``What's Not to Like?'' read a headline in the Toronto Star, which added that ``Daly's warts'' are the reason ``fans love him.''

``Golf can use a John Daly,'' wrote my Daily News friend Steve Dilbeck, referring to Daly's ``colorful'' past.

What I'd like to know is where all this sympathy was when dozens of athletes before Daly were screwing up their careers with addictions, indiscretions and arrests.

Darryl Strawberry, Steve Howe, David Thompson, George Best, Mike Tyson and Patrick Valenzuela probably wonder the same thing.

They were, or are, ridiculed or reviled as dissipated louts who squandered their God-given talents.

But Daly is, as Golf World magazine's Ron Sirak wrote, ``the common man with uncommon talents who refuses to climb into the cookie cutter, try as the world might to put him there.''

Strange that when people think of Darryl Strawberry, they think, ``Cocaine.''

But when they think of John Daly, they think, ``Salt of the earth.''

Permit me a dissenting opinion.

It's fine to root for Daly to beat back his demons, correct to cheer when he succeeds, natural to smile when he taps in to win last week's Buick Invitational and sheds tears of joy.

To treat this as a feel-good story, though, misses the point.

More than anything else, Daly is a sad case, a 37-year-old player who's good enough to win two major tournaments - 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 British Open- but had won only two other events coming into 2004.

That is to say, before the Buick, he'd had as many weddings as PGA Tour victories.

The record says that if you get excited about a Daly resurgence like this month's, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

Why does Daly inspire affection that other misbehaving athletes don't?

I've seen it said there's a racial double standard at work here.

``If he were a black basketball player, he likely wouldn't be getting all these chances to win our hearts back,'' Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel.

But there have been plenty of troubled white athletes who didn't become working-class heroes like Daly.

''I think fans relate to some of the things I've gone through,'' Daly said Saturday after grinding out a 1-over-par 72 for a three-round total of 9-under 204. ``And they know I love them.''

But how many golf fans do you know who have been through a fraction of Daly's troubles?

``I think people think he has a good heart,'' Weir said Sunday. ``He's a likable guy.''

But the two most-troubled athletes I've covered, Howe and Valenzuela, were likable guys. It's one of the reasons they were given so many second chances. If they'd been jerks, they might have been told enough is enough.

Maybe we're seeing the difference between team and individual sports. Howe, the pitcher, let down the Dodgers when he went AWOL. Valenzuela, the jockey, leaves horse owners in the lurch when he's suspended. Daly hurts nobody except himself.

But that's on the course. Daly's victims elsewhere include the ex-wife he pleaded guilty to harassing, the people depending on the $20 million he is said to have gambled away in the 1990s, the stewardess he engaged in a drunken altercation, the owners of the hotel room he trashed and the sponsors he embarrassed.

Fans, how does a man with all that on his record become perhaps the most- rooted-for golfer at the Nissan Open this weekend, a ``likable guy,'' ``great for golf''?

The Darryl Strawberrys of the world await your answer.

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1)The one thing John Daly seems to do better than making comebacks is keeping fans in his corner.

(2) Fans never seem to tire of watching the erratic John Daly work himself in and out of trouble, on and off the course.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 22, 2004
Words:807
Previous Article:AHEAD OF THE PACK WEIR DISTANCES HIMSELF WITH A RECORD EFFORT.
Next Article:HOT WEIR TAKES THE RAINS LEADER IS 17-UNDER PAR AFTER THREE ROUNDS AT WET RIVIERA.


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