Daly gives in to temptation

"Wild Thing" John Daly has given up fighting the "inner demons" that he has been battling for almost a decade.

"Wild Thing" John Daly has given up fighting the "inner demons" that he has been battling for almost a decade.

But the former Open champion insists he has found the right way to beat the drinking and gambling addictions that have cost him both a fortune and almost his life. Daly has blown millions of dollars at casinos around the world and almost died of alcohol poisoning at the 1997 Players Championship in Florida.

His inability to kick his dangerous habits eventually cost him a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with club makers Callaway earlier this year after the chairman of the company admitted defeat in his expensive battle to help the 33-year-old recover from his addictions.

Daly however is adamant that his decision to drink and gamble in moderation will bring an end to the binges that saw him trash hotel rooms and be suspended from the US Tour in 1994. And he claims he emerged unscathed after putting his theory to the ultimate test by playing the Las Vegas invitational last week.

"It's funny, when you think you can't have something you want it bad," the 1991 USPGA champion said as he prepared for the £535,000 Belgacom Open at Royal Zoute.

"When you know you can go ahead and do the things you want to do, you don't do it so much. You take a 19-year-old kid in the States and he wants to go to the liquor store and buy booze. As soon as they turn 21 they say 'okay, that was fun. Now I'm legal but it was more fun when I couldn't do it.'

"I hardly gambled last week in Las Vegas. I threw a little bit into the slots but not anything like I used to. It's more of a freedom thing for me than it is to fight something. I got tired of fighting.

"Now I can work on my golf game and not have somebody looking over my shoulder at everything I do. I've got to do what I've got to do. I can't have people living my life for me and me trying to live it for them.

"I have to try and live it my own way. That's the decision I made so I'm kind of enjoying life. I'm not getting crazy like I used to, I just know I have a freedom to make a choice to do the things I want to do to a moderate degree like a lot of people do. The fight's over.

"The good news is that I don't have millions of dollars to gamble right now. It's just nice to go there and play the 100 slots or 25 slots for an hour and then go to bed and get up and practice."

Daly's game has naturally suffered during his lengthy battles with himself and authority. He withdrew after a first-round 80 in the Colonial tournament, had a six-putt 10 in an 82 at the Memorial event and took 11 on the eighth en route to an 83 in the US Open at Medinah.

Yet the talent that brought him the USPGA title at Crooked Stick after only getting in as ninth alternate and the Open at St Andrews in 1995, still remains and Daly has worked harder than ever on his game during an eight-week break this year.

"No doubt it's rekindled my enthusiasm to be a winner again at golf," he added. "Not being able to drink took away my energy to play golf and practise hard on my golf game.

"I made a decision about two months ago, I'm going to drink a little and I'm going to play golf. That's what I do. The other option was never to gamble, try to stay sober and never play golf again. I didn't want to go that route.

"Golf is my life, it always will be, it's what got me here and what puts food on the table for my children, so that's the decision I made and I'm happy with the one I made.

"We're only here once and if I can't make decisions for myself at 33 then I need to find something else to do. I just feel free."

"It seemed the last three or four years golf has been a job and I want it to be fun, not a grind. Golf is hard enough as it is. The last three tournaments it's been nice. I still got upset but I can now smile about it. I have the freedom to be who I am and not somebody I'm not."

Despite such confidence Daly is unlikely to be among the favourites to claim the £89,000 first prize on the windswept links course on the north Belgian coast.

Defending champion Lee Westwood, Ryder Cup team-mates Darren Clarke, Paul Lawrie and Jean Van de Velde are all in the 108-strong field alongside Ian Woosnam, Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer.

World number five Westwood has not given up on overhauling Colin Montgomerie at the top of the Order of Merit despite a deficit of over £400,000 and feels refreshed after a week off and short helicopter journey from his home this morning.

"There is still a lot to play for," Westwood said. "There is £600,000 top prize in Valderrama. This time last year I was in a similar position and had a chance going into the last day of the last event so hopefully I can do the same again.

"The way Monty was playing I thought he might win the Lancome Trophy or German Masters, which I missed, so I expected to be more behind than I am at the moment. It's a bit of a let-off really."

At the other end of the Order of Merit, the event represents the last chance to get into the top 115 on the money list and secure a card for next year.

Scotland's Stephen Gallacher gave himself a fighting chance with a top 10 finish in Spain last week and lies 118th in the table. But with only 20,000 separating 115th from 130th position, any number of players could still follow the example of Fredrik Jacobsen from 12 months ago.

The Swede began the event with one eye on the qualifying school but by finishing runner-up, losing a play-off to Westwood, he not only secured his card but climbed to 75th in the money list.