Grip it and rip it; Daly leads after first day of PGA Championships



John Daly reacts after missing a birdie on the 10th green during the first round of the 89th PGA Golf Championship at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007. Morry Gash

TULSA, Okla. – The last time John Daly led a major was only three weeks ago at the British Open. That excitement lasted about 15 minutes.

He was back on top again in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, leading Lee Westwood by a stroke at 4-under par with three holes to play in the first round at sweltering Southern Hills.

Another shot back was Arron Oberholser, who led for a bit before making double bogey on the long par-4 16th hole to fall to 2 under.

Tiger Woods, seeking his first major of 2007, made four birdies and three bogeys and was in a big group at 1 under with four holes to play. Among those also on the course at 1 under were British Open runner-up Sergio Garcia, club pro Brad Lardon and six others.

Mark Wilson, Geoff Ogilvy, Camilo Villegas and Markus Brier had all posted 1-under 69s and were the early clubhouse leaders.

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Daly shocked the golf world in 1991, coming from the ninth alternate’s spot to win the PGA at Crooked Stick. Given the way his life, and his golf game, have gone over the last few years, another PGA win this year might be even more stunning.

But there’s a ton of golf to be played in the 100-degree heat in Tulsa, and Daly has recently shown how quickly he can rise and fall. At Carnoustie three weeks ago, he pitched in for eagle on No. 11 to briefly take the first-round lead. He followed by dropping eight shots over the next seven holes en route to missing the cut.

It was yet another disappointment for the fan favorite, who made his biggest splash this year when he showed up to the tournament in Memphis with scratch marks across his face, the result of what said was an attack by his wife, Sherrie, with a steak knife. He has withdrawn from four tournaments this year, missed the cut in eight more and seen his world ranking slide to No. 423.

This time, however, there were small signs that a meltdown might not be imminent – such as the 12th hole, once labeled by Ben Hogan as the greatest par 4 in the United States.

Daly ripped a driver deep into the woods and looked to be in big trouble. But after carefully measuring off his yardage, he hit a wedge that flew under one tree and over another and landed the ball 20 feet from the hole. He hit a sloppy first putt but saved the par from 4 feet to stay at 3 under. Then he just missed an eagle putt on the next hole, but tapped in for birdie to take the lead.

British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson each had afternoon tee times, as temperatures were moving into the high 90s with the heat index even higher.

Not even a decent breeze could keep these players from sweltering in the heat. Woods’ white shirt was drenched with sweat after just a few shots. Daly, also wearing white, could have wrung his shirt out by the time he made the turn.

Woods says other than drinking more water and changing gloves more frequently, heat is no big deal to him.

He opened the day by hitting his approach shot on No. 10 to 8 feet. Arriving at the green, he read the putt, transferred some sweat from his forearms to his pants, then stepped up and made it to get to red numbers right away.

An apparent misread on No. 11 cost him a chance at another birdie and a 12 footer for birdie on No. 12 slid just outside the cup before he made two birdies to give him a share of the lead.

But he gave it up on No. 18 when he hit an approach shot to the elevated green well short, leaving it in the bunker. He failed to get up and down and made the first of three bogeys over the next five holes.