Woods, Daly turning back the clock

With barely a zephyr blowing and the heat index just this side of a Calcutta clay oven, the first day of the 94th PGA Championship was about endurance.

And scoring.

Some big names did well with both, including Tiger Woods, who for the third straight time started a major well, opening with a 3-under 69.

Indeed, it was the first time since 2000 that Woods has opened with a round in the 60s at three consecutive majors.

The difference being, of course, that 12 years ago he went on to win each of those. Woods shockingly faded on the weekend at the US Open and made too many mistakes at Royal Lytham & St Annes.

Woods’ 69 represented his best round at a PGA since 2009, the year he took the lead into the final day at Hazeltine only to be upset by Y.E. Yang.

The four-time champion, still looking for his first post-fire hydrant major, wasn’t at his best but rekindled a little of the old Tiger, turning a round that could’ve easily been 1 or 2 over par into just a three-shot deficit behind early leader Carl Pettersson.

“I putted well,” Woods said.

Something of an understatement given that he only took 22 strokes on Kiawah Island’s pure paspalum greens.

After putting woefully during the first two rounds in Akron last week, Woods said he found something during a practice session last Friday night that’s still serving him well.

“I made six putts over 20 feet out there, or something like that, on the weekend,” he said. “Came here with the same thoughts, same feels, and I made a few today.”

Another man who made a few putts was blast from the past John Daly.

The 46-year-old, who burst onto the scene 21 years ago this week by winning the PGA after starting the week as the ninth alternate, opened with a 68.

Woods said he was rooting for Daly, whose life has been faithfully lived to the lyrics of any number of sad, down-on-your-luck country songs.

“He’s always been great to me over the years,” Woods said. “I have always rooted for him. I have always been a John Daly fan and a friend.”

Woods recounted that the first time he played with Daly, when he was 13 in Texarkana, Ark., he was mesmerized by how hard Daly hit a golf ball.

“Second hole is a par 5 up the bill, down the grain, and he hit the shot and he knocked the damn ball out of round,” Woods said, still marveling at the feat. “I’ve never seen anybody hit the ball that hard.”

Daly, who’s been in better form of late, coming off a fifth-place finish last week in Reno, certainly hit the ball hard on Thursday, taking advantage of his prodigious length to play the par-5s here at 4 under par.

“It’s kind of been building up for the last five or six weeks,” he said of his resurgence. “When I get on a little run, six, seven, eight weeks in a row (making cuts), I feel I have a better chance of playing well.

“It gives you a chance to get some confidence in your game, so I’m getting a lot of confidence, but I’m just hitting the ball solid.”

Daly, who hasn’t won in eight years, has relied mainly on sponsor invites to get into tournaments for the past five years. He also plays in Europe but wants to climb his way back to relevance on the US tour.

“I want to be here, playing our Tour,” he said. “I want to be like everybody else, in the top 50 and getting that free money in the World Golf Championships and be in all the majors and getting sponsors; big, big sponsors and stuff like that.”

Daly, of course, had those big, big sponsors but, just like his four marriages, the relationships didn’t end well.

He says he’s finally found some peace in his life — he proudly boasts he got his son, Little John, through the third grade — and is ready to devote himself to golf again.

Certainly, judging by the galleries following him on Thursday morning, there are still those who want to see him make it back.

“It’s just like my golf game, it’s up and down,” he said of his appeal. “And so is my life. It’s how we battle to get through it, and I think people relate to that.”

Daly said he wouldn’t look too far ahead and wasn’t ready to start thinking about a third major; one that would be at least as unlikely as his first.

“I’m just kind of loosey-goosey out there, and it just feels good,” he said.

He’s reverted to the style of play that made him famous: Grip it’n’Rip it.

“For me, to just free-wheel it is the only way I can get my confidence back instead of worrying about this and worry about what something else is doing,” he said. “I only need to worry about what I’m doing and go out and attack and play golf and enjoy it.”