CROMWELL ——The nondescript 21-hour drive from Arkansas to TPC River Highlands ended with a bit of pageantry for John Daly.
"It was a welcoming committee, wasn't it?" asked Anna Cladakis, Daly's girlfriend, while pulling a speeding ticket out of her purse. "Here in Cromwell. A police escort."
Daly's common-man image began after his victory in the 1991 PGA Championship, where he was the ninth and final alternate. Though he won the 1995 British Open, Daly has made headlines for his numerous suspensions from the PGA Tour, including one in 1994 to address his alcoholism.
Those issues, in a way, fueled Daly's popularity. Without a full-time PGA Tour card, Daly has been receiving sponsor's exemptions, which he received to play in the Travelers Championship.
His black-and-yellow Loudmouth Golf pants stood out in the first round Thursday. So, too, did his figure. Following surgery to control his weight and a strict diet that has minimized Diet Cokes and carbohydrates, a more svelte Daly had lost nearly 120 pounds and currently weighs 185.
"I think they notice me by the pants now, not the four chins and the big ol' gut," Daly said. "But it's so cool. There were a lot of people out there wearing the Loudmouth stuff, and it's good to see."
Daly struggled in the first round, finishing with a 1-over-par 71. He began with a bogey on the 10th hole and another on the 13th, then two-putted No. 2 for a double bogey. Birdies on Nos. 3, 6 and 8 helped lower his score.
He was pleased, though. Following the St. Jude Classic in Memphis two weeks ago and the Nationwide Tour's Fort Smith Classic last week in Arkansas, close to his home, Daly is playing for a third consecutive week. A hip injury hampered him earlier this season, leading to withdrawals from the Zurich Classic and Valero Texas Open in April and May.
"I'm getting off to bad starts and having to grind it out, and when Saturday comes around, if I'm lucky to get in, I'm mentally drained from trying to make the cut," Daly said. "It's crucial to get off to a decent start [today] and make something happen. I feel like I'm hitting it better than I'm scoring."