John Daly had a tougher time than most navigating the 18th hole at Bethpage Black.

Not so much with his clubs, but with his cart.

He hit his tee shot into the cluster of bunkers right of the fairway, and Daly had to drive a tight path between two bunkers to get to a spot where he hobbled to his ball. His second shot didn't make it to the fairway. His third went to the back of the green, and that led to more issues.

This time, he had to park short of the green and lumber up the hill. All that for a bogey.

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For the second time in his long and infamous career, Daly drove into history on Friday at the PGA Championship — first with his big tee shots at Crooked Stick, this time with his hands on a steering wheel at Bethpage Black.

"It's very awkward," Daly said of being allowed to use a cart because of medical issues. "There is no way I can walk it, but I feel like I belong to play because I am a past champion."

Some in the sport say he shouldn't be allowed to use a cart, an exemption he was granted because of severe arthritis in his right knee. Daly said he needs the cart to compete.

The tough New York crowd agreed with him. They had a soft spot for him. The surprise winner of the 1991 PGA Championship had supporters at every tee and green in the opening round of the second major of the year. It didn't make a difference that he eventually missed the cut.

"New York fans are great," said the 53-year-old two-time major champion, who said his knee was the size of a softball after the round. "Some of them are going to get on you, but 99.9 per cent are great, just good fans."

Fans see Daly as the common man playing golf — smoking an occasional cigarette, drinking a diet soda and wearing a gaudy pair of white pants covered with New York Yankees emblems and pennants.

"You know what, the guy can barely walk," fan Rick Rossi said as he waited for Daly to play his second shot at No. 18, his ninth hole.

"His knee is completely destroyed. He has no cartilage, the meniscus is torn off the bone. Is it (the cart) really an advantage? He's not going to make the cut. He is a fan favourite. He brings a big crowd following him. It's good for golf."

John Daly is hardly the picture of health. Photo / Getty
John Daly is hardly the picture of health. Photo / Getty

DARK SIDE TO COMICAL IMAGE

However, not everyone was enamoured with the comical images of Daly driving around the fairways with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and diet cokes in his cup holder. Writing for Golfweek, Eamon Lynch said the scenes were a sad reminder of how far the cult figure has fallen.

"His ride, like his career, a faded carbon of what it once was," Lynch wrote.

"There were cheers, for sure. There always are, whatever his failings. But around the grounds at Bethpage Black there is also an unmistakeable sense that the Daly Show is a tired act, that he is afforded courtesies that his conduct long ago cost him any right to expect.

"Sure, he earned his spot in the field as a former champion, and he has been legitimately granted a cart. But professional pride and sportsmanship should have rendered moot a decision on availing himself of either.

"Even at 53 he remains proof that growing old and growing up are mutually exclusive."

Sports Illustrated's Charlotte Wilder said the caricature of Daly covers up a darker truth to the man who has faced countless personal demons.

"It's tempting to write about, think about, and experience Daly as a goofy uncle, as golf's punchline, as The Funny Man In The Loud Pants, as the guy who rides around in a cart, ripping butts and sipping from McDonald's drinks that he keeps in the cupholder," Wilder wrote.

"But that's not exactly what we're working with, and a lot of people here are either willingly forgetting that or never knew in the first place.

"There's a dark sadness to Daly's own fight with himself. He's struggled for decades with addiction; in 2010 he spent the night in jail after passing out in a Hooters … He's had sponsorship deals pulled because he refused to go to rehab.

"This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his run-ins with the law and his attempts (or non-attempts) to get sober."

John Daly plays his shot from the tenth tee. Photo / Getty
John Daly plays his shot from the tenth tee. Photo / Getty

Brendan Porath of SB Nation reflected on how sad it was to see Daly struggling to enjoy himself.

"It's sad in the every sense of the word. It's both pitiful and sorrowful. It's sad to watch. It's sad it's a part of a major championship. It's sad that Daly has been reduced to this. It's sad that Daly looks so sad about this," he wrote.

"Daly didn't look like he was having any fun at all. He looked like he was in pain and he looked miserable. And it wasn't just limping from one spot to the next or struggling to go up and down a bunker face. He almost never smiled as the fans shouted one adoration after another while he cruised past the rope line in his quiet electric cart.

"That past show of natural talent, history of success, and the intervening years are the context that makes this just look so sad."

'IT'S NOT EGO, I JUST FEEL COMMITTED'

Daly is the first player to ride in a cart at a major since Casey Martin in the US Open at Olympic Club in 1998 and 2012.

He said he also asked for an exemption for the British Open, which he won in 2005 at St. Andrews, and is awaiting a response.

"It's not really ego, I just feel committed," he said. "Past champions, if we can play, no matter what it takes, we should."

Whenever Daly arrived at a tee or hit a shot today, there was a roar from the crowd. It sounded like a morgue for playing partners and fellow former PGA champions Rich Beem (2002) and Y.E. Yang (2009).

Fans loved getting a glimpse of Daly and his sweet ride. Photo / Getty
Fans loved getting a glimpse of Daly and his sweet ride. Photo / Getty

After the heavy-set Daly saved par with a short putt following a 30-yard shot out of the front bunker on the par-4 15th, the crowd cheered. "Way to go Johnny!" one shouted.

"Go, Johnny, go," chirped another.

And as he walked to cart No. 515 after the hole, Daly was asked: "Can I help you there?" All drew laughs.

The long-hitting Daly has been playing in the PGA Tour Champions, a 50-and-older circuit that allows for carts, since 2016, winning once in 2017. He has not won on the PGA Tour since capturing the 2004 Buick Open.

Daly insisted this week the cart was a big disadvantage, saying he was uncertain where he could go with it.

One other issue with the cart came as Daly tried to get from the No. 16 green to the tee on the next hole. A grandstand blocked one avenue and there was a narrow corridor to the right of the green. It was blocked by five carts being used by television crews.

Daly patiently waited a minute or two for them to move and went to the tee. It was all in a day's drive.