James Lawton: Hard hats necessary as the galleries feast on their Daly dread

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The Independent Online

In that heart-tugging, public-spirited way of his, John Daly drew attention to a wider issue than who made the big moves in the early going of the 68th Masters. Another former champion, Ben Crenshaw, also made a contribution, but naturally the big man from Rogers, Arkansas did it rather more spectacularly.

He pointed out with typically savage power that it is almost certainly time, especially in litigation-happy America, for the mega-dollar golf industry to consider the safety of their patrons.

Here in Augusta there is an implicit acceptance of the increase in danger that has come with longer driving and ever more refined technology. Yellow hard hats have been issued to all the stewards. But this precaution was not enjoyed by Donald Blinkoe when he strode down beside the seventh fairway. Daly pushed his drive right, drilling the unfortunate young man from Kentucky neatly on the back of his head.

The victim was still on the flat of his back on the pine needles when the great man, with a newly ignited cigarette in his fist and an extremely harassed look on his face, arrived. There followed a brief, laconic conversation.

"I sure hope you had enough whisky last night," Daly said. "No, John, I don't believe I did. But I sure will tonight," replied Blinkoe. Daly: "In the meantime, maybe you could keep on round the course and keep my ball on the fairway. The way I'm playing, I gotta feeling I'm going to need you."

Naturally Daly's huge gallery ­ second only to that of Tiger Woods ­ and the newly christened "Daly's Derelicts" found all of this hugely amusing. Blinkoe said that he didn't feel he needed medical attention when anxious security men surrounded him. "I reckon I'm just going a have a little headache . Hey, I'm a Daly fan and guess this is kind of an honour."

Daly's morale was certainly in need of some massaging after a start that bedevilled his hopes of making a serious run at adding the Masters to his PGA and Open titles ­ extraordinary punctuation marks in all the years of rampage, of booze and pills and four marriages ­ the latest to Sherrie, who earlier this week was sentenced to five years' probation and six months of house arrest after being found guilty of money-laundering and involvement in an illegal gambling ring.

Daly was strong in his belief that after spells of detox, and an unsuccessful attempt to pursue the 12 steps away from addiction, he was ready to shoot again for the big prizes ­ on his own terms.

These include nightly appearances at the Hooters Bar on the neon strip that runs down past Augusta National. Daly has parked his motorhome at the bar, which was visited by local sheriffs one night this week when the proprietor called in to say that a group of hookers from Atlanta had been seen distributing their calling cards. Daly has drawn no official wrath this week, although the club committee are probably not thrilled to hear that he is selling merchandise from a vehicle which carries the logo Redneck.com.

All of this would have been swept aside soon enough if Daly had maintained the thrilling momentum that he achieved off the first tee. He came out with Padraig Harrington and the former Masters champion Vijay Singh, both of whom must have felt as though they were making up the numbers when Daly stepped up to the tee. Some of his fans from Arkansas delivered the promised "Hog" roars and Daly did not disappoint ­ at least not in that first stupendous contact with the ball. He sent it flying 342 yards beyond the big bunker that guards the approach to the first green and one of the "Derelicts" performed a small dance of high anticipation. Soon enough, the promise had dimmed. Daly's second shot flew beyond the green and the price was a bogey.

Another disaster came at the fifth, and it was the same formula, a thunder roll of a drive, then a second shot whipping past the green. Daly grunted ­ and lit another cigarette. It was, some of the fans had to agree, an edited version of their hero's life. One less committed observer, however, shook his head and talked about a double standard. "Because Daly is a good 'ol southern boy, everything is forgiven, he's celebrated, but let me tell you, if he was some black kid playing basketball he would be the biggest bum in the world."

A bracing view, no doubt, and certainly something to be thought rather than said in this company, at least other than from under your breath.

Of course, redemption is never far away when Daly is hitting the golf ball, something that comes at least as naturally as downing a whisky or popping a pill.

Another example came on the first fairway when Daly played a superb recovery shot. Only the pedantic were inclined to point out that he was playing the adjoining ninth. After making par, Daly said: "It wasn't in the plan, but I guess we're in survival mode now."

That resolve was weakened considerably when he bogeyed the 10th and then double-bogeyed the famous par-three 12th. He was suggesting that all hope was being abandoned at Amen Corner. It was confirmed with another double-bogey on the par-three 16th, which quashed the hope raised by a single birdie. He marched, glum and wordless, off the course, six over and plainly going under for another year.

Meanwhile, the Masters committee are no doubt checking their supply of hard hats.