RIDGEDALE – John Daly isn’t feeling real optimistic about his golf game these days.

He’s barely six weeks removed from surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus.

In his two starts since the procedure, he finished in a tie for eighth and a tie for 33rd, with a combined score of 5-over par in the six rounds of competition.

But there are some big reasons the big fan favorite is teeing it up this week at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge.

* He gets to use a cart in competition

* He gets to play with close friend Michael Allen in the unique team format

* He gets to play close to his home of Dardanelle, Arkansas, in an event he has grown to love in the three years since joining the PGA Tour Champions circuit

“It’s great,” Daly said following a pro-am round on Wednesday at Top of the Rock. “It’s cool to play some kind of team event. Me and Michael, it’s our fourth year.

“We love it, we relish in it, and to be able to play a par 3 as beautiful as this, it’s just awesome. All the guys love it.”

Daly spoke to his fondness for the area’s golf options, and how much bigger and more impressive the event and surroundings seem to get every year.

“It’s amazing,” Daly said, then referring to Johnny Morris, the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, plus the brainchild behind the offerings at Big Cedar Golf. “Is there a golf course he doesn’t own in this area?

“But he’s so cool. He fixes them up, makes them nice, and people enjoy it. It’s a great experience to come up here and play. Even if you don’t play golf, you can just enjoy the scenery and Branson and go to some of the shows. It’s just a great town.”

Daly touched on a variety of subjects during the impromptu media gathering next to the ninth hole on the par-3 course.

That included his knee and his recovery from surgery: “It ain’t doing very good, but I got my cart, which is good.”

His game overall: “It’s OK. I mean, I played decent last week. I hit it better than I scored and that’s kind of what it’s been, but I feel like I’m putting pretty good.”

His 15-year-old son John Daly, Jr. has made something of a name for himself in some of the junior tournaments and father-and-son events.

He shot a 66 in the final round of a tournament for 16- to 18-year-olds two weeks ago and rallied from eight shots back to win: “He loves it, he’s passionate about it and that’s all you can ask for. … “His hands are better than mine, I can tell you that. The way he chips and putts is incredible.”

Daly also talked about his lifelong love for the St. Louis Cardinals.

He played the Wednesday pro-am wearing a Cardinals’ cap and windbreaker, plus a pair of shorts with the Cardinals’ logo splashed throughout, part of the line of clothing from “Loudmouth Golf,” a company Daly has had an endorsement deal with for years.

They feature apparel for all big-league baseball teams, but Daly said his favorite days are when he’s dressed in Cardinals’ red.

“I love it, I love it,” Daly said of the first month of the season, with the Cardinals occupying first place in the N.L. Central. “I’m so happy for them. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Toward the end of the round, Daly took a break on the final hole to have his photo taken near a banner for the “Folds of Honor,” a group that provides educational scholarships to the children and spouses of fallen and disabled service members.

He wears the logo for the organization on his golf polo, but there’s no endorsement money involved.

“I’m just a wing man,” Daly said with a laugh. “I don’t get paid anything. … I think we did $21 million last year for the fallen soldiers or the wounded and we take care of the kids, make sure they get through school and get a good education.”

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