CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The John Daly who reached a 573-yard hole in two with a 7-iron and showed a soft touch around the green in the first round of the Honda Classic is not the John Daly of old.
He says he's even better.
"All in all, I'm hitting the ball well. But mentally and physically put together, this is the best I've ever done," Daly said Thursday after his 4-under-par 68 left him one stroke behind Jeff Maggert.
It was the 17th time in his last 18 rounds that Daly has shot par or better, and while he hasn't won since the 1995 British Open, he keeps showing signs that he's not that far off.
"I'm showing up knowing I have a chance to win," Daly said.
That's a feeling Maggert has known during a career filled with plenty of close calls but only one PGA Tour victory.
On Thursday, Maggert got a rare soft bounce on a hard, fast course, holing a 7-iron for an eagle in a round of 5-under 67 to lead Daly and Stewart Cink by one.
Colin Montgomerie, 0-for-45 on the PGA Tour after missing the cut at Doral last week, birdied two of the last three holes and joined Steve Pate at 69.
The group at 70 included Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh and defending champion Stuart Appleby.
"I'm hungry for victories," said Maggert, who has finished in the top three 17 times in seven full seasons on tour, his only victory coming in the 1993 Disney Classic.
"I'm trying to stay patient, but when you've been out here eight years, it's tough to do that," he said. "To have only one win is frankly disappointing. It bugs me."
There were plenty of elements that could have bothered him throughout a blustery day on the TPC at Heron Bay.
Along with several tough pin placements, the slightest mistake on any of the 10 holes that played into a 20-mph wind often led to bogey. And firm conditions make it difficult to hold downwind shots on the greens, even with a wedge.
Maggert's break came on the 460-yard sixth hole. He had 175 yards to a pin tucked closed to a bunker, but his high 7-iron landed softly on the fringe and steamrolled into the cup.
"I didn't think I could get the ball close to the hole," Maggert said.
He two-putted for birdie on No. 9 and No. 14, two par-5s with the wind at his back, and added another birdie on the 534-yard 16th hole by getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker.
Daly made the par-5s look even easier. He reached the green in two at the 573-yard 14th with a driver and a 7-iron for a two-putt birdie from 20 feet, then used a driver and 7-iron again on No. 16 to get within 12 feet for another routine birdie.
"That was a good, solid round," he said.
Daly already has won $204,850 in six starts, nearly double what he made last year when he took two months off for alcohol rehabilitation.
Instead of hitting the bar after a round on the course, he's going to the range. Daly spent four hours practicing after Wednesday's pro-am.
"For six weeks in a row, I've felt really comfortable," Daly said.
His 68 came in tougher conditions than what Maggert faced in the afternoon. The temperatures felt like lower 30s in the morning, and the wind was so stiff that Watson twice pulled out a 3-wood to reach a par-4 at the 7,268-yard course.
"I was wearing out my 1-iron today," said Langer, who used it three times for his approach on a par-4 and would have needed it again except for finding a fairway bunker on the 442-yard 17th hole.
Maggert, whose third-place finish at the PGA Championship earned him a spot on the Ryder Cup team, has gotten off to a slow start this year. A family ski trip caused him to play only four times on the West Coast, where he has had his best tournaments.
His highest finish this year was a tie for 27th in Hawaii. He then missed the cut at his next two events, Tucson and Doral. But instead of going home to Houston, Maggert stayed in south Florida last weekend to concentrate on golf.
"I guess it paid off today," he said.
Divots: Robert Gamez took out his poor putting on the putter. After missing a birdie putt on the 16th, he broke his putter by slamming it into the ground. He finished out the round using his sand wedge on the greens. "That's not the first time I've done that," said Gamez, 157th in putting last year on tour. ... Kelly Gibson is without his regular caddie this week. Buck Moore is at the NCAA East regional to watch his son, Ricky, a guard for Connecticut. ... Langer has perimeter-weighted clubs for the first time in his career. He ended his 12-year relationship with Wilson last season and is playing the Ping ISI irons.
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