Bad-boy Daly eyes fresh start at HK Open

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 November, 2008, 12:00am

American joins Race to Dubai in new attempt to get career back on track

'Wild Thing' John Daly has come out of the blue - and jail - to add the X factor to next week's 50th edition of the UBS Hong Kong Open.

Two weeks after spending 24 hours sobering up in a north California jail, the American will try to resurrect his fading career at the US$2.5 million tournament at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

But the two-time major winner, who has plummeted to 783rd in the world rankings aged 42, still has the pulling power that promoters love. And despite his notoriety in the United States, where many tournaments and fans have grown impatient with the wayward talent, Daly still has a big following in Hong Kong and Asia.

'He came to us,' said Martin Capstick, managing director of promoters Parallel Media Group. 'While it's come out the blue, it is not a complete surprise. I understand he is keen to join the European Tour and get a good start in the 'Race to Dubai'.'

The Hong Kong Open will feature twice in the new 13-month European Tour calendar, which culminates in the Dubai World Championship next November 19-22. It offers prize money of US$10 million, with another US$10 million split between the top 15 in the final standings.

'Daly still has lots of fans in Hong Kong and around the region,' Capstick said. 'He is a wonderfully talented golfer.'

Daly also has a talent for gambling and drinking, which landed him in trouble in Winston-Salem two weeks ago. He was locked up after appearing 'extremely intoxicated' and being 'unco-operative' outside a Hooters restaurant - his favourite eatery and one of his few remaining sponsors.

A police photo of Daly in orange coveralls with his eyes half-open did not help his image.

'Nothing is going right in my life right now,' Daly said afterwards. 'I'm going through a hell of a divorce. I haven't seen my son. It was an unfortunate incident. I take full responsibility for what happened, but it wasn't a big deal.'

Daly, who won the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open, pleaded for his fans not to give up on him, but he would understand if they did. 'I'm not sure I'll ever be back to where I was, but I'm going to keep trying.'

Hong Kong Golf Association chief executive Iain Valentine believes Daly's presence could add 'thousands' to the gate next week. 'He's a popular guy, despite his problems,' Valentine said yesterday. 'He'll be a great draw, everyone knows him and thousands will come to see him. I'm sure he will conduct himself very well, like he did last time he was here.'

That was 10 years ago when Daly also arrived under a cloud, having suffered a breakdown during a tournament in Canada and going into self-imposed exile. He was in a position to challenge for the lead, admitted to 'choking', and wound up in a tie for 19th behind winner Kang Woon-soon of South Korea.

Daly's last victory was the Buick International in 2004 and he lost his US PGA Tour card two years later. He last played in Europe in September, finishing 20 shots behind Robert Karlsson, who was runner-up in Hong Kong last year, at the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Germany.

'I've always enjoyed playing in Europe and I'm looking to get my 2009 season off to a good start,' said Daly. 'Hong Kong is a prestigious event so I hope to put in a good performance. All I can do is control my effort and attitude. If I can do this, I hope it will be enough to turn things around.'

The field now includes five players with 14 majors between them, led by England's Nick Faldo (six), Daly (two), Germany's Bernhard Langer (two), Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal (two), Scotland's Paul Lawrie and New Zealander Michael Campbell.

The line-up also includes defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, PGA Tour ace Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, 2005 Hong Kong Open champion Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, a two-time winner on the European Tour this year.