Golf / The 121st Open: Daly's rocket battery off target: Ken Jones reports on John Daly's wayward introduction to the mysteries of Muirfield

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The Independent Online
IF THE wind gets up they will need tracker dogs to find John Daly's ball. The Firth of Forth could come into play. Nobody in the Lothians will feel safe.

In wild weather Daly's driver, marketed as the 'Killer Whale' (dollars 10 from each sale goes to preserve the species) becomes a lethal weapon. He hits the ball high and it goes for ever. The impression is a rogue Exocet, a wayward SAM. 'If there is a big breeze tomorrow I might as well pack my bags,' he said.

For the burly American, a sensational winner when ninth reserve for the US PGA Championship last year, the first round of his first Open was a chastening experience. In benign conditions Daly, prodigiously long off the tee, thought he had the game to murder Muirfield. Not from 100 yards he didn't. It wasn't the wedge he needed but more experience and cunning. 'I haven't yet got the shot I needed,' he shrugged.

Small disasters lingered in Daly's mind. A double-bogey at the 14th after carving his tee shot into knee-high rough, and then duck-hooking low into the gallery. Another at the 18th, punishment for carelessness in a fairway bunker. 'No excuse,' he said. 'The ball was sitting up nicely but in trying to get some distance I managed to bury it in the sand. That was just stupid.'

In one way the Open proved to be all that Daly expected. Over the years he has watched it on television, sensed a unique atmosphere. 'The tournament is everything I thought it to be,' he said respectfully, 'and to be out there with Ian (Baker-Finch), the defending champion, helped to make it special.'

Inevitably, Daly brought a buzz to the proceedings. Crowds gathered down both sides of the first fairway, awaiting the first result of his raw power. Immediately he dropped a shot, taking two to recover from a greenside bunker. At the 351-yard second he was pin high from the tee. The gallery gasped. Daly smiled. Chip, one putt, birdie.

Power corrupts. 'I guess I'm always aware that the spectators want me to hit the ball out of sight,' Daly admitted. 'But I try to leave that in the back of my mind.' The Californian's admirers insist that there is more to his game than a combination of brute force and remarkable timing. 'He's got a better short game than most people imagine,' one of them said.

It did not always look that way on the opening day at Muirfield, the elements kind enough to suggest that a devilish trap was being laid. Dithering here and there, Daly removed large clumps of terrain with his wedge, the shot never working well for him. 'I knew this was going to be a learning thing,' he said outside the clubhouse as interrogators crowded in.

'Sure I'm disappointed. I didn't imagine that I had any chance of winning here, but if I was going to do anything it was today. I simply didn't take advantage of the conditions. I should have done better. But there are a lot of guys here who will be leaving early. This is different golf, like nothing I've known before. Until this week the nearest I'd been to this country was Italy.'

Over the front nine Daly was consistently 30 to 40 yards past Baker-Finch and Sam Torrance off the tee. Disappointment brought discretion, a slightly more conservative approach. The urge returned on the 17th. Winding up a swing that defies human construction, one that could provide enough material for an orthopaedic seminar, he suddenly was the Wild Thing again, launching himself so powerfully at the ball that his drive was measured at approximately 370 yards; a prodigious hit. 'I really let that one go,' he smiled.

Somebody suggested to Daly that he has been known to do some damage on the pool table. (He is alleged to have done damage in other directions, but that is a different story.) 'I'm hopeless at pool,' Daly countered. 'I keep knocking the balls off the table.' That, more or less, is what can be expected if the wind starts to ruffle his blond locks.

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