Daly puts bad days behind him

COUNTDOWN TO THE OPEN: Dangerous driving on the mind of the champion

Ernie Els is more settled in the United States these days, though he still misses having a few beers with his friends on the European Tour. John Daly, more than anyone, knows how he feels.

There were times when the Open champion, who begins the defence of his crown at 12.52 tomorrow, needed two characters to get himself round the golf course, his caddie and someone called Jack Daniels. Now that he is sober, Daly has become what no one ever expected from him. He is dependable.

"In the last 12 months I haven't won a tournament but it's been a real consistent 12 months," the American said yesterday. "I'm not shooting the bad numbers like I used to, I'm hanging on in each round and I've been working on my game a lot harder than I ever have. It hasn't been the greatest 12 months of top tens and top fives but at least there is some consistency there." Some people might not recognise this figure.

In the bad days, Daly seemed to consider the seven deadly sins as an itinerary rather than anything to be avoided. He has accounted for more bourbons than the French revolutionaries, collected three wives and, recently, turned his attention to serious gambling. Daly likes to play slot machines and blackjack and managed to disperse $200,000 (pounds 125,000) in a single sitting at New Year. He recouped that and more during a more successful foray to a Melbourne casino while competing in the Australian Masters in February. If he gets to hear about the Golden Mile just up the coast, Blackpool's arcades may never be the same again.

However, it is the wrestle with alcohol that has been Daly's most damaging addiction. The nadir was the day outside Denver, when a friend on a mobile phone had to talk a depressed driver out of taking the Thelma and Louise route off the hillside. "The only thing I fear is alcohol," Daly once said. "That's the one thing that can beat me. I can't beat it. I'll never be able to beat it.''

Dangerous driving is back on Daly's mind at Royal Lytham this week. "The fairways are so narrow that I think you can count me out of hitting any fairways this week," he said. "But I will hit a lot of drivers.''

Nick Faldo will be out before the floats when he embarks on his quest for a fourth Open. In partnership with Robert Allenby and Fuzzy Zoeller, Faldo tees off at 7.33 tomorrow morning. His trio of victories do not include one at this venue, but this acre of west Lancashire holds warm memories for him nevertheless. "In 1975, as an amateur, I had won the Berkshire Trophy and then winning the English Amateur here was the first big one," Faldo said yesterday. "That was near as dammit the start of my career. And then my first Ryder Cup was here in 1977. I beat Tom Watson one up and that was big stuff.''

Faldo's preparation has been conducted elsewhere, with Royal St George's at Sandwich welcoming an unexpected visitor last week. "I practised for two days and it was good to get back into links mode," he said. "I enjoy Lytham very much because it is accuracy links with so many pot bunkers." But Nick is not expecting to be tipping much sand out of his shoes this week. "I am feeling good," he said. "I have been hitting the ball well the last couple of days and I feel I have a good chance.''

Daly is not so confident and rates himself a 150-1 shot. He continues to enjoy the memory of St Andrews a year ago, and continues to enjoy remembering anything at all. "It's been fun," he said. "When I won the British I won it the right way and I've continued to practise and play and do the things on and off the golf course the right way. It's been a great, great 12 months.''

Tee-off times for first two rounds at Royal Lytham

(GB or Ire unless stated)

* denotes amateur

07.00 and 11.46: M Mackenzie, A Langenaeken (Bel), R Willison

07.11 and 11.57: P Lawrie, J Rivero (Sp), B Watts

07.22 and 12.08: D Gilford, I Baker-Finch (Aus), P Stewart (US)

07.33 and 12.19: N Faldo, R Allenby (Aus), F Zoeller (US)

07.44 and 12.30: R McFarlane, B Hughes (Aus), B Mayfair (US)

07.55 and 12.41: F Couples (US), M McCumber (US), P Harrington

08.06 and 12.52: L Westwood, S Jones (US), W Riley (Aus)

08.17 and 13.03: M James, P O'Malley (Aus), T Tolles (US)

08.28 and 13.14: J Parnevik (Swe), B Charles (NZ), P Jacobsen (US)

08.39 and 13.25: B Langer (Ger), T Kite (US), Y Kaneko (Japan)

08.50 and 13.36: H Tanaka (Japan), S Ballesteros (Sp), J Maggert (US)

09.01 and 13.47: B Faxon (US), D Frost (SA), C Montgomerie

09.12 and 13.58: D Feherty, J Haeggman (Swe), DA Weibring (US)

09.23 and 14.09: J Haas (US), P Senior (Aus), H Clark

09.34 and 14.20: M O'Meara (US), T Lehman (US), A Forsbrand (Swe)

09.45 and 14.31: L Roberts (US), G Turner (NZ), S Torrance

09.56 and 14.42: G Norman (Aus), S Stricker (US), J Paynes

10.07 and 14.53: B Estes (US), W Westner (SA), P Eales

10.18 and 15.04: M A Jimenez (Sp), T Johnstone (Zim), J Sluman (US)

10.29 and 15.15: P Broadhurst, D Borrego (Sp), D Love III

10.40 and 15.26: R Drummond, S Field, M Welch

10.51 and 15.37: R Chapman, R Lee, H Meshiai (Japan)

11.02 and 15.48: I Steel, F Tarnaud (Fr), B McColl

11.13 and 15.59: D Smyth, A Lebouc (Fr), A Mednick (Swe)

11.24 and 16.10 G Emerson, *S Allan (Aus), M Litton

11.35 and 16.21: E Darcy, S Murphy (US), A Sherborne

11.46 and 07.00: R Boxall, T Price (Aus), S Luna (Sp)

11.57 and 07.11: D Duval (US), W Austin (US), B Lane

12.08 and 07.22: J Leonard (US), B Ogle (Aus), P McGinley

12.19 and 07.33: S Simpson (US), S Elkington (Aus), S Cage

12.30 and 07.44: E Romero (Arg), L Janzen (US), C Rocca (It)

12.41 and 07.55: *W Bladon, A Oldcorn, B Barnes

12.52 and 08.06: J Daly (US), P Mickelson (US), S Higashi (Japan)

13.03 and 08.17: M Jonzon (Swe), B Tway (US), S Ames (Trin)

13.14 and 08.28: M Calcavecchia (US), C Strange (US), P-U Johansson (Swe)

13.25 and 08.39: G Brand Jnr, S Maruyama (Japan), J Nicklaus (US)

13.36 and 08.50: V Singh (Fiji), M Farry (Fr), J Furyk (US)

13.47 and 09.01: T Herron (US), M McNulty (Zim), A Cejka (Ger)

13.58 and 09.12: A Coltart, F Nobilo (NZ), M Brooks (US)

14.09 and 09.23: P Hedblom (Swe), E Els (SA), C Stadler (US)

14.20 and 09.34: C Parry (Aus), S Lyle, P Azinger (US)

14.31 and 09.45: D Clarke, R Goosen (SA), *T Woods (US)

14.42 and 09.56: B Crenshaw (US), N Price (Zim), P Walton

14.53 and 10.07: J Robson, *S Garcia (Sp), T Hamilton (US)

15.04 and 10.18: G Player (SA), C Pavin (US), I Woosnam

15.15 and 10.29: P Mitchell, M Campbell (NZ), R Mediate (US)

15.26 and 10.40: C Mason, T Bjorn (Den), S Bottomley

15.37 and 10.51: S Grappasonni (It), C Suneson (Sp), R Todd (Can)

15.48 and 11.02: G Law, D A Russell, M Florioli (It)

15.59 and 11.13: J Coceres (Arg), S Tinning (Den), K Fukunaga (Japan)

16.10 and 11.24: D J Russell, D Hospital (Sp), G Brown

16.21 and 11.35: K Eriksson (Swe), M Hallberg (Swe), J Townsend (US)

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