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Daly wins Buick playoff
by Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- In life and in golf, no one ever knows what to expect from John Daly.

The latest surprise came Sunday at the Buick Invitational when Daly hit a 100-foot bunker shot to within 4 inches to win a three-man playoff, his first PGA Tour victory in nearly nine years.

It wasn't over until Chris Riley, who grew up playing Torrey Pines, watched in disbelief as his 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th rimmed all the way around the cup.

Luke Donald earlier missed from 6 feet.

``It's the greatest,'' Daly said. ``I can't explain it. I've had a lot of ups and downs. Geez, this is sweet.''

Daly had plenty of twists and turns in the final round, but nothing compared to his life off the course.

Since winning the '95 British Open at St. Andrews -- his second major -- Daly has gone through another divorce, had another trip to alcohol rehab, and now waits to see what happens to his fourth wife, indicted last summer on drug and gambling charges five days after she gave birth to his first son.

He put all that behind him with a performance only he saw coming.

Daly, No. 299 in the world ranking at the start of the week, closed with a 75, the highest final-round score by a PGA Tour winner in 13 years. Steve Pate also had a 75 in the final round of the '91 Honda Classic.

Daly might not have made the playoff if not for his clutch short game. He got up-and-down from the bunker 10 out of 12 times during the week, no shot more important than the playoff.

He had about 100 feet of green between him and the pond, with Riley and Donald already in birdie range. Daly hit a bold shot, and urged the ball on -- ``Go! Go!,'' he yelled -- as it trickled toward the cup.

For Riley, it was a bitter end.

He grew up in San Diego, and this tournament means more to him than any other on the PGA Tour. Riley, among the best in golf with the short stick, calmly rapped his birdie putt.

Riley's routine is to not look up for several seconds. He thought it was pure, but when he finally glanced at the hole, he saw it slipping out of the right side.

``I would have bet my life on that putt,'' he said.

Daly won $864,000 for his fifth PGA Tour victory. It was almost as surprising as the first one, the 1991 PGA Championship, when he was the ninth alternate and drove through the night to Indiana when Nick Price withdrew.

Daly was poised to win in regulation, and thousands of fans lining the par-5 18th fairway sensed it.

Riley made a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe to go to 10-under. Donald did the same, making his putt from almost the identical spot.

Needing a birdie to win, Daly chose to lay up from 265 yards away. Then, his sand wedge failed to spin down the ridge, leaving him a 35-foot putt that stopped just short of the hole.

All three finished at 10-under 278.

So many others had a chance to win, or at least get into a playoff.

Phil Mickelson birdied eight of his first 11 holes, closed with a 67 and was among six guys who finished one shot out of the playoff. Steve Flesch needed a birdie to make the playoff, but his wedge found the water on No. 18.

Tiger Woods was within two shots of the lead until his driver failed him at the worst time. He missed four straight fairways, took two bogeys and closed with a 69, two shots out of the playoff.

Woods tied for 10th, the first time in seven appearances at the Buick Invitational he has finished worse than fifth.

Daly entered with a one-stroke lead over Stewart Cink (76), but showed early this would be a wild day.

He hooked his tee shot so badly on No. 2 that it hit a cart path and was headed for the sixth fairway. Instead, it smacked a tree, ricocheted into a torrey pine, rolled along the branches and popped out back over the gallery's head and harmlessly into the rough on the same hole he started.

His next mistake got him, though.

His approach drew sharply over the green on the par-3 third hole and rolled into a hazard. He tried to hack out, but moved it only 3 feet, then blasted over the green and two-putted from 90 feet for double bogey.

That's when the fun began.

Mickelson's charge took on new meaning, and four straight birdies brought him within two shots of the lead. The gallery rushed across the South course to find him, but the damage was done by the time they got there. He fluffed a flop shot into the bunker on No. 12 and made double bogey.

Next came Woods, finding the fairway and sticking it close for birdie. He got to 9-under, two strokes back when Daly dropped another shot, and began walking with purpose. Before long, he was slamming clubs.

Woods' hopes fell apart when his fairway bunker shot faded just enough to find another bunker, leaving him no green and no chance but for a bogey. He went from the rough to the bunker on the par-5 13th and skulled a bad lie over the green, settling for par.

Woods was as impressed as anyone by Daly's latest comeback.

``He's had a lot of things happen to him -- we've all read about it and seen it,'' Woods said. ``It's great to have anybody who has gone through the things he's gone through and succeed.''

Divots: Brian Davis of England won the ANZ Championship in Australia, which will move him into the top 64 on Monday and give him a spot in the Match Play Championship. Duffy Waldorf was among those who tied for fourth, which might be enough to move him into the top 64. ... Dunlop Golf, which signed Daly to a sponsorship deal at the start of the year, announced Sunday it would donate $1,000 to The First Tee and $1,000 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for every birdie he made in the final round. Daly made two birdies, including the playoff.


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