John Daly, who has not won a PGA Tour event since the 1995 British Open, sank a 32-foot bomb for eagle on the final hole at Torrey Pines Golf Club to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Buick Invitational.
A two-time major winner, Daly had not held a 54-hole lead since the 1994 BellSouth Classic.
“I am a golfer, but I am also a fan,” said Stewart Cink, who is one stroke behind Daly.
“To see (Daly) hit the fairway there on 18, hit in on the green with an iron and then make the putt, that was spine-tingling.
“That was the first time I have played with John when he has been in contention and it was a lot like playing with Tiger. It’s a lot like NASCAR. There was a lot of hooting and hollering. Being from Alabama, I was right at home.”
Daly, whose struggles on and off the course have been well chronicled, had the fans roaring along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean just north of San Diego, carding a five-under-par 68 for a 54-hole total of 13-under 203.
Cink, the overnight leader, wound up at 204. Dennis Paulson, who lives about 10 miles up the coast in Encinitas, birdied the final hole and is third at 205.
“John has got a heart of gold,” said Paulson, who got into the tournament on a sponsor’s exemption after battling injuries the last few years.
“He has done some things he wishes he hadn’t done and some things the PGA Tour wishes he hadn’t done.
“There are only 10 or 12 really great guys out here and he is one of them. He would do anything for you and he roots for you on the golf course. He is just a good person. It’s good to see him playing well.”
Tiger Woods, the defending champion, tried to make a charge, totalling five birdies, but five bogeys left him eight strokes back at 211.
Daly, whose last brush with contention came two years ago at Torrey Pines when he finished two strokes back, said he regained his confidence with two unofficial wins – the Kolon Korean Open and the Callaway Golf Pebble Beach Invitational – late last year.
“I felt, ‘hey, I can still win,”’ said Daly, who burst onto the PGA Tour scene in 1991 when he won the US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick after getting into the field as an alternate.
“Out here, it’s a different story because there are so many guys who can win.
“It would be wonderful. It would prove to myself that it is not over yet. It has been a long dry spell in the US (since winning the 1994 BellSouth Open). If I don’t, at least I have a chance and I can build on it.”