Torrey Pines hosts the 2004 Buick

    The annual Buick Invitational draws golf fans from all over Southern California because of its world-class field. Spectators come to La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course expecting the PGA Tour’s finest talents like Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson to battle for the tournament lead on the fourth and final day of the tournament.

    David Ung
    Guardian file

    However, this past weekend’s 2004 Buick Invitational didn’t have defending champion Woods in the final group on Sunday or even on the first page of the leaderboard. This year’s tournament didn’t even have Singh’s name on the third- or fourth-round list of starting times. Singh, who had come to La Jolla riding a streak of 12 consecutive top-10 finishes, missed the one-under-par cut line after the second round that narrowed the original tournament field of 156 to 84 golfers. The third fan-favorite, Mickelson, made a birdie on his final hole of the second round to get to one under par, and barely made the cut.

    Despite not having any of the world’s top golfers atop the leaderboard, the Buick Invitational had an ending that no one would complain about. Long-hitting John Daly won this year’s tournament on the first hole of a three-man playoff with San Diego natives Chris Riley and Luke Donald.

    Daly, who has battled back from an up-and-down career, including two trips to alcohol rehabilitation and PGA suspension due to erratic behavior, ended a streak of 189 starts without a victory.

    “I never doubted that I could win,” said Daly, whose last PGA Tour win came at the 1995 British Open.

    The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Daly, known for his “grip-it-and-rip-it” style and booming drives, was clearly a fan favorite at the Buick’s final day at Torrey Pines. He ended his third round by making an eagle on the South Course’s 572-yard, par-5 18th. The eagle brought out a loud roar from the gallery that could be heard on the opposite end of the course, and it gave Daly a one-stroke lead going into the final round.

    As most of the field behind Daly made a push, he just left the door wide open for someone else to take the lead. Mickelson fired a five-under 67 to bring him to nine under and into a tie with five other golfers who ended just one stroke off the lead. Both Donald and Riley, who played high school golf at Torrey Pines and still live within 10 miles of the course, shot 69s on Feb. 15 to move to 10 under for the tournament.

    Daly played a shaky final round, making just one birdie. He recorded two bogeys and one double on Sunday, and he began the final hole tied with Donald and Riley at 10 under. After laying up on the par 5, Daly left a 35-foot putt to win the tournament in regulation just short and he headed for his first playoff in nine years.

    On the first playoff hole, the 18th of the South Course, Daly told his caddie that he would go for the green on his second shot if he were within 275 yards of the green. When he got to his ball, he found that his drive had gone over 310 yards and he had 262 left.

    From there, he ripped a 3-wood that found the right bunker at the back of the green. After Donald and Riley had both hit their approach shots to within 10 feet to give themselves legitimate birdie opportunities, Daly blasted out of the bunker and his ball trickled down the sloped green another 100 feet to within inches of the hole.

    Daly didn’t bother to mark his ball, tapping in for birdie. Next to putt was Donald, who rolled his putt by the hole. Then, Riley hit his slick downhill putt, which lipped out, assuring Daly his fifth career PGA victory.

    “There was a lot of emotion. It was kind of a relief that I won again,” Daly said. “It’s the greatest. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs … it’s sweet,” he said as tears rolled down his cheeks.

    For his performance at Torrey Pines, Daly won $864,000, more than he has won in any single season of his turbulent 13-year PGA career. Despite earning his biggest paycheck, Daly is proud to have competed against a strong Torrey Pines field.

    “This is the greatest victory,” Daly said. “I won two majors and nothing can take away from that. But I’ve never won a tournament with Tiger Woods in the field. That feels good.”

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