MEMPHIS — Oh, the twists and gyrations on the roller-coaster that is golf.
John Daly came to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis a struggling pro golfer, making the field on a sponsor’s exemption only because he remains one of the tournament’s biggest spectator magnets.
Saturday, he’s among the leaders of the tournament, again, as he goes low, attracting followers like the Pied Piper.
For Friday’s round, he wore his traditional loud pants — in a bold green Hawaiian-style pattern displaying female golfers in various stages of golf swings.
His bag was red-sequined. The sponsor in bold letters? Not Nike or Ping or Callaway. It’s a sponsorship representing some of his core followers, “Pilot Travel Centers.”
Daly finally seems comfortable in his skin and knows his audience and how to play to Memphis.
Meanwhile, Arkadelphia’s Ken Duke, one of the steadiest golfers on tour, placed himself within the top 10 going into the weekend.
Conway’s Bryce Molder had a wilder ride.
He posted a solid 1-under Thursday, putting himself within the top 20 and poised to strike.
He had a rough start Friday and ballooned to 2-over, teetering on the cut line until he rallied to right things and play the weekend but finished with a double-bogey that knocked him back in the pack.
He finished with birdie Thursday, a contrast in closing emotions.
Although Molder has maintained himself among the top 50 to 70 money-winners on tour, it has been bumpy.
“I developed a problem with my swing and have had a rough time,” he said. “I was hitting the ball crooked and wasn’t making putts, which is usually my strength. I’ve worked really hard on my swing and it’s starting to feel really good again. And I’m starting to make a lot of putts. But it’s always a challenge when you’re playing against 150 of the greatest golfers in the world.”
Do up-and-down experiences affect how he approaches the first two days of the tournament with a cut line in mind?
“I would like to say it doesn’t,” he said. “But when you are playing well, you start every tournament a lot looser and confident that you can hit every shot and you’re eager to just play. When you are struggling, there is more pressure to get off to a good start and make the cut.”
Molder’s Friday round represented the delicate line between the middle and the top of the pack.
He made five birdies, two double bogeys and one bogey to move to finish even-par.
He found water three times, twice on the back nine, which represented his first nine. He played brilliantly on the next nine to get to 2-under and a tie for 18th place going into the weekend. He put himself in bad position with his tee shot on his final hole and hit water again, taking a double bogey. And he had to make a tricky 7-foot putt to secure double bogey.
“Three balls in the water by probably a total of 3 feet,” he said. “Right there on the edge. Just picked the wrong time to hit my bad shots. But I’m still just 6 back. It’s a jumble.”
The weekend could be a thrill ride.
Which is business as usual for Molder right now.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)