By Jim Workman
Assistant Managing Editor
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
Besides the leaders, the largest contingent of spectators gathered Sunday at The Greenbrier Classic were tracking fan favorite John Daly.
He didn’t disappoint.
And it was much more than his usual loud clothes and relaxed (by golf standards) demeanor that had their attention.
The five-time PGA TOUR tournament winner tore up The Old White TPC in the final round, shooting a 5-under par 65 to go 10-under for the tournament.
His first three rounds were 68, 67 and 70, respectively.
On Sunday, Daly made four birdies on the front nine, and four more on the back nine. But a double bogey on 10 and a bogey on 13 kept him from having an even more spectacular day.
“The double (bogey) I made and the bogey I made were two really bad breaks,” Daly admitted. “Other than that, it could have been really low. It was a good week for me.”
Daly, 46, was looking for his first Top 10 since last year, and only his second in seven seasons.
He finished tied for 12th at 10-under.
“I finished (tied) ninth in the (RBC) Canadian last year and finished fourth in a European event this year,” said Daly. “The game is coming around. It was good to have a nice Sunday like this.
Daly won the 1991 U.S. PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open.
But he has struggled to regain top form in recent years.
“My confidence is better now, ever since I changed my putting grip to a normal grip,” he said. “I’ve been putting a lot better. I have been hitting the ball well all year. It’s a good confidence booster for me going into John Deere (Classic, next week), because you have to go low there.”
Coming into the Greenbrier Classic, Daly had pocketed just $117,396 this season.
“My goal is to get my U.S. card back,” Daly added. “I’m looking forward to being 50 (years old) and playing the senior tour. I’m enjoying the European Tour, but the travel is killing my body. I love the guys there, they’re great. It’s a great tour. But it’s tough. If I have to keep doing it, I’ll do it.”
Daly once became the youngest active player on the PGA TOUR with two major championship titles and fourth American at the time since World War II to win two majors before his 30th birthday, joining Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller.
“I’m excited now,” he said. “In a couple of years, I’ll get to play the senior tour and play with some of my buddies. They helped me out when I first came out. I’ll take it one week at a time. I’m working hard at it. Some good things are starting to happen.“
Being back in White Sulphur Springs for the third straight year has its advantages.
“It helps a lot,” Daly said. “I was fortunate. Jimmy (Justice, The Greenbrier chairman and CEO) asked me where to put some tee boxes after the first year. I felt like we did a pretty good job. There’s some more changes the players would like, so I’ll talk to Jimmy and see if he wants to do them or not. If not, the course is perfect. I’ll help him.
“It’s a great tournament. The players love it. The staff is great. The food is great. If you have that, you can’t go wrong.”
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In his post-round interview, Daly expressed further admiration for Justice. And he added that he sealed a deal with the owner of The Greenbrier on Sunday.
“I came up with a plan, I told him that I would each give $100 for every pound he loses to any charity he wants,” Daly revealed. “And Tiger said he’d do it. We care about him. He’s a big guy. If we can get him to lose some weight and add about 30 years, maybe 40 years to his life, he’ll be happy. It’s time somebody did something for him, instead of him doing something for everybody else all of the time.”
Three years ago, Daly underwent a lap-band surgical procedure, began focusing more on his health and lost nearly 60 pounds himself.
“Every time I talk to Jim, his back is hurting, his knees are hurting,” Daly said. “He can get with my doctor and do this thing and lose a ton of weight and feel great. I care about him.
“Jim is just the greatest. He’s got the biggest heart of any man I’ve ever known.”
“But the $64 question is, how long do I have to lose it?” Justice said in response in a separate interview several minutes later, laughing. “We haven’t worked out all of the details.
“I could sure stand to shed a few pounds. It’s not that I don’t try. But this will sure help. I’ll give it a good shot.”
Justice spoke highly of Daly as well, a player who has appeared in all three editions of The Greenbrier Classic.
“I’ve been asked to do a lot of things,” Justice said. “When John came here the first year (in 2010) he didn’t have a lot of sponsors. I offered to help him. He has never asked me for a thing. He’s all the time calling me, asking me, ‘What can I do to help? Do you need anything?’ He’s had his issues in the past, but he’s amazing. He has a big heart. I love him to death.”
Justice played in a pro-am with Daly in 2010 which helped seal the relationship.
This year, he got to know Tiger Woods a little better, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am with the global sports icon.
“We were walking down the fairway, and Tiger told me that most places he is around people that it’s all about what kind of car you drive, the clothes you wear,” Justice shared. “But he said he loved being here (in West Virginia.). He said the people were so nice, so genuine. It really touched him.
“He’s a lot warmer than people would think. I enjoyed being around him.”
“John and Tiger are both really nice guys,” Justice added. “They’re good timber.”
— E-mail: jworkman@