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Golf: Mickelson returns this week

By Teresa Walker
Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. ó The question came at John Daly a variety of ways Wednesday, and he tried deflecting them with jokes.
His weight loss? He cheated. And the lap-band surgery was so successful that his 17-year-old daughter is scheduled for her turn next week. His time on the European Tour? Great, loves it as much as the PGA Tour ó except for the cameras going off during his swing and smaller purses. A last chance? That’s when he’s dead and buried.
Then the golfer whose life features more drama than reality TV finally talked about what everyone wants to know: Is he really serious about golf this time?
“You think you’re going to be out here for life. I took that for granted. I didn’t take all the golf tournaments as serious as I should have,” Daly said.
He mentioned NFL player Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson as an example that sticks with Daly, someone who never knew how great he could have been because of the Dallas linebacker’s own struggles with alcohol and drugs.
“But the good news is I can still salvage a great career,” Daly said.
His latest step at another career revival comes Thursday in the opening round of the St. Jude Classic, his first tournament back since a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour. He’s here on a sponsor’s exemption in a place he considers home and where fans eagerly watch, ready to call the hogs for the Arkansas native at any time.
This tournament needs Daly and all the attention he brings in a year that has featured as much suspense as the troubled golfer himself.
Title sponsor Stanford Financial was dropped in March with its assets frozen in a federal investigation. That left an event heading into its 52nd year named only for its charity, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Tournament officials scrambled for money even as FedEx, whose headquarters overlooks part of the Southwind course, increased its support.
Late last week, the purse was cut $500,000 to $5.6 million, the first time that’s happened on tour this year. The winner will take home a little less but still a $1 million check in a move players learned about only an hour before the commitment deadline last Friday.
“We wanted to give every opportunity to see how we could compete at the levels that had been previously announced,” tour spokesman Ty Votaw said. “The final determination was that we felt it was best we do this.”
So no wonder officials welcomed Daly back with an exemption. More headlines followed when Phil Mickelson, ranked No. 2 in the world, announced his return to competition three weeks after suspending his schedule because his wife, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It’s an attempt at some normalcy and a tuneup for next week’s U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in New York.
“So here I am,” Mickelson said of playing a course redesigned and toughened to par-70 since his lone visit here in 2001.
The rest of the field includes Henrik Stenson in his first event since winning the Players Championship, Sergio Garcia, British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, Camilo Villegas and Retief Goosen. Justin Leonard is back defending his title, looking for his third win here since 2005 along with another two-time winner in David Toms.
Leonard said he does worry about the lack of a sponsor but has faith that tournament director Phil Cannon can find a replacement.
“It’s a tough spot. Trying to find a title sponsor in this economy is difficult,” Leonard said.

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