A slimmer, focused Daly back at Travelers

John Daly during the the Travelers Championship pro-am on Wednesday, June 23.

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CROMWELL, Conn. – Many golfers see the week after the U.S. Open as an opportunity to take a break from the grind of the PGA Tour. Others see it as an opportunity to prove they can win there.

John Daly doesn’t have to worry about the grind. Without a full PGA Tour card since 2006, the two-time major winner now relies on sponsor exemptions to play in events like this week’s Travelers Championship.

Daly is making is first trip to Cromwell since 2002, when he sported his signature beer gut and a cigarette hanging from his lips.

A lot has changed since then. Daly underwent lap-band surgery in 2009 and says he has lost 120 pounds. He said his scores are starting to drop, too, now that he has finally fully recovered from a nagging rib injury he suffered in 2007.

“It’s nice,” he said. “When you don’t have the pain you can work on something and get the confidence, but when you’re working around pain all the time, you don’t have confidence in your game.”

Daly played his first Nationwide event since 1991 a week ago, and finished tied for 22nd at the Fort Smith Classic in his home state of Arkansas.

Counting that tournament, he has made nine consecutive cuts, and hopes to build on that this week.

“As long as I just keep in a rhythm, and keep playing, and keep healthy, I know it’s going to turn,” he said. “I feel it.”

Defending champion Kenny Perry is also back, and a bit lighter. Perry said he’s been working with a trainer and lost about 30 pounds since he shot a tournament-record 258 last summer.

The 49-year-old Perry said he realized in December that with 14 career wins, his chances of making his goal of 20 before he retires could hinge on his health. He’ll turn 50 in August.

“I felt old,” he said “I felt tired. I felt no power, no strength. I felt weak, so I just said, ‘You know what, if I’m going to compete anymore out here, I need to change.’ So I made the decision, and we’re going to fight through it this year and see how it goes.”

It’s been going pretty well for 29-year-old Justin Rose. After winning his first PGA Tour event at the Memorial earlier this month, the 29-year-old failed to qualify for the Open.

That gave him two weeks, he said, to have a “few beers and a few barbecues” and celebrate. Now, he’s at the Travelers hoping to build off his victory.

“I’m not trying to build a week,” he said. “I’m trying to build a career. So yeah, it’s nice to have it done, but it’s not the end game for me. I think I’m still very focused on just getting better as a player, and that’s what drives me day-in and day-out rather than a capital win now and there. It’s playing for the rest of the year.”

South African Retief Goosen could probably use a break from golf, but he’s also in Cromwell, after playing not only in the U.S. Open, but also the Telus Skins Game earlier this week in British Columbia.

Goosen recently returned to golf after missing two months with a broken finger.

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