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Evan Winiker

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While Tiger Sleeps, the Lion Feasts

Posted: 08/09/2012 11:23 am

While the internet was buzzing over Michael Phelps' 22 Olympic medals and Jim Furyk's epic collapse at Bridgestone, John Daly was quietly putting together his best tournament in years.

Though it wasn't live from London, or taped from The WGC Bridgestone Invitational, the original Happy Gilmore managed to string together a Sunday 71 to finish tied for fifth in this weekend's Reno-Tahoe Open, his best finish in almost eight years.

Daly, who hasn't won an event since the 2004 Buick invitational, has had an arguably worse decade than Mel Gibson.

Highlighted by an infamous slot machine catastrophe (losing $1.5 million dollars on a $5,000 slot), and defined by a night to remember in Winston-Salem (found drunk outside of a Hooters), Daly seemed destined for a Golf Digest obituary by decades end.

Surprisingly, the grim article would have to wait.

Coming into the weekend, Daly had made seven of his last nine cuts and was beginning to resemble the long-driving, freak show of old. But the question still remained, which John would show up at Montreux: The club throwing loudmouth from Arkansas or the two time major champion of yore?

Something tells me, the RTO's organizing committee didn't care.

Far from a respected tour event, and light years from anything resembling Augusta, the RTO has always been the PGA Tour's ugly step child.

Forever an opposite field event, the RTO has gone up against another PGA tournament since its inception, leading to a decade long history of weak fields and even weaker attendance. In it's best year, the Reno Tahoe Open resembled a WNBA playoff game. The fans are in the stands, but are they really all there?

This year was different. With the PGA Championship the following week, and semi stars Padraig Harrington and Camillo Villegas failing to receive invites to Bridgestone, the Open's lineup looked somewhat competitive for the first time since the Bush administration. Daly's time to shine, would seemingly have to wait... Or would it?

With six birdies on Thursday and seven on Friday, Daly seemed to surge into the weekend, ready to tear the Montreux Golf club a new one.

Then on Saturday, Daly did something he hadn't done since his last marriage, he took the lead in a PGA tour event. As the cameras captured every ash of his cigarette and every thunderous step, you couldn't help but wonder if you were watching a Golf Channel rerun from decades prior. The Lion was back.

But just as the coverage began to deepen, Long John started to sink. Bogeying 12, 14, 15 and 16, Daly struggled through the back nine, pulling off a massive putt on 18 to finish Saturday tied for fifth.

With tour vets Justin Leonard and Padraig Harrington lurking, it was anyone's game going into Sunday's final round, but unlike recent Sunday performances, Daly found a way to hold it together.

Tying for second in greens in regulation, Daly knocked in four birdies and capped off the day with some impressive up and downs, pulling off an honorable Sunday 71 to finish in a tie for fifth.

He smiled for the cameras and was his usual affable self in post round interviews, but you could tell the big guy was hurt. He wanted this one.

As the sun went down on the weekend and news outlets rushed to cover Tiger Woods sleepy weekend in Akron, you couldn't help but wonder what the story would have been if Daly had made that sand save on Saturday or aimed an inch to the left on half a dozen of those close birdie attempts.

Hindsight may be 20-20, but Daly's not the type of golfer to look back on his mistakes, his past looks more like a junk yard than a hall of fame career.

Still, the wild thing's got some juice left in him, and with a four tournament in four week stretch beginning at next week's PGA Championship, John looks to get back to that place he loves outside of Hooters... But this time with a PGA card in hand.

 

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