One last shake of The Lion’s tail?

HIS stomach shrunk by surgery and his gambling, divorces and drinking having reportedly left him close to bankruptcy, John Daly says he is looking forward to “hitting the European Tour” next week.

Coming to the end of a six-month US Tour ban imposed after he was thrown in jail to sober up, Daly’s first tournament of the year is the Spanish Open in Girona.

From there, his planned schedule takes him to the Italian Open in Turin, the Irish Open in Baltray and then the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

What shape Daly’s game is in remains to be seen — he missed the cut in his last three events before Christmas — but the shape of his body was there for all to see at Augusta two weeks ago in a stark demonstration of where his life is at.

While the game’s greatest players competed at The Masters, the former Open and USPGA champion — no longer in the world’s top 750 — was across the street selling T-shirts and hats like a market trader.

He goes under the nickname “The Lion” now — it used to be “Wild Thing” of course — but there has not been much to roar about lately.

Yet hope springs eternal and Daly is not ready to give up.

After hitting the scales at 20 stone, the controversial American, 43 next Tuesday, underwent an operation in February in which a silicone band was placed around the upper portion of his stomach, limiting how much he can eat.

His weight has come down by three stone since and as well as sticking to a high-protein diet, he says his alcohol intake is down to the occasional sip, girlfriend Anna Cladakis commenting: “He’ll come back and say ‘It just doesn’t taste right any more’.”

After a much-publicised break-up with Butch Harmon this time last year — Harmon stated that “the most important thing in his life is getting drunk” — Daly has been working with Phil Mickelson’s former coach, Rick Smith.

His putting style has changed because his stomach has changed. “I’m not having to lean back because my gut’s hanging over,” he said. “The shorter putts are all right, but on the long putts my speed’s way off.

“I tried the belly putter, but my belly was so big I did not know where to put it. Maybe I’ll try again now that I have lost a bit of weight.”

Interviewed in Florida last week, Smith stated: “I’m very pleased. I’ve worked with a lot of people in my life that had a lot of talent and he’s certainly at the top of the list.

“I said I’m not going to be his father, but I’m going to help him with his game.”

Even Daly might be forced to concede he is now in the last-chance saloon. He relies mostly on invitations and if he goes on lasting only two days in tournaments they will soon dry up.

But he insists: “I can come back. I’ve come back from anything and I think Rick’s the best choice. Me and him are going to be together for a very, very long time. I wouldn’t have anybody else look at my swing or anything.”

Daly’s last victory was the 2004 Buick Invitational and he has had just one top-20 finish in almost two years.

He was only three off the lead after an opening 67 in Italy last May, but his 23rd place there was followed by a run of six successive missed cuts either side of the Atlantic.

That included The Open at Birkdale, where he crashed out after rounds of 80 and 89.

His season ended in Australia, and ended in more controversy after he smashed a spectator’s camera against a tree.

Daly, who said the fan was “in my face” and had already taken several photographs even though it was banned, later told Robert Allenby he would never be returning to Australia.

At Augusta he said: “I think this time it’s for me. I don’t have to really prove a lot any more. I’ve just got to prove some stuff to myself.”

One thing he can never be criticised of is a lack of openness.

“I always talk about the things in my life that have happened because it might help somebody,” he added. “We all make mistakes, but most people are too embarrassed or too scared to admit them. I’m not, it’s part of life.

“Most of the stuff that’s happened in the last year or two, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and people judged it the wrong way.

“I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but people want to make up stuff because they’re so used to doing it.

“Everybody knows I need the money and I’m getting life where I can just focus on golf instead of focusing on negative stuff.”

On whether his “market stall” appearance at The Masters demeaned his position as a two-time major winner he stated: “I don’t care what people think and say.

“One thing for sure, the 25,000 people going through never question my dignity. It is all about the fans.

“People say I have wasted my talent, but I have always been a streaky player. I have no regrets.”


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