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John Daly
John Daly caught everyone's eye Thursday at St. Andrews, and not just because of his dress. (Getty Images)

Daly of old shows up anew at Old Course

John Daly's outfit might not have matched perfectly on Thursday, but his golf game was perfectly matched with the Old Course. The blond bomber looked like the Daly of old, as he rode his prodigious driving with a delicate short game to a stellar 66.

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- John Daly laughs that his Loudmouth pants allow for the option of getting dressed in the dark.

Why? Any shirt matches.

He didn’t get any arguments on that subject Thursday morning when he may indeed have done just that. His lucky purple paisley pants -- Pazletine is the pattern. Turquoise cap. Peach shirt. Baby blue argyle sweater. A mix-n-match worthy of an Easter basket.
Would you expect anything less? Daly is nothing if not colorful. And outspoken. And brutally honest.

He also still happens to have a pretty good touch with his golf game now and again. Long drives, nice soft hand action to the greens. A game made for a course like this Old Course, where he won a Claret Jug in 1995; a course that just happens to be his favorite of all time.

All of which added up to an opening round 6-under-par 66 and for a few brief minutes a share of the very early first-round clubhouse lead at the 150th Anniversary Open Championship.

It didn’t last, of course. Half an hour or so later Rory McIlroy tapped in for an easy – seriously -- 63 and a share of the Open record. But Daly wasn’t complaining. After his last few years -- the highs, the lows, the lapband surgery, the addictions, the threats to retire and the injuries -- this was seriously sweet.

“It's good to be sitting here,’’ Daly said. “I think this is the first time I've seen the media center at the British Open since '95, who knows.  It's a good feeling.’’

First time the 455th ranked player in the world has seen a media center in a long while, period.

Not to belabor the fact, but Daly has been just about everywhere but. He’s missed cuts. He’s played in Europe. He’s struggled financially and he’s slimmed down with his new restricted intake system. No alcohol, he says, just sips of Diet Coke for caffeine. And chocolate. Again in smaller portions.

Just where this round came from is anyone’s guess -- Daly’s included. He’s had a few nice opening rounds that have gone nowhere. And this one? Anyone’s guess.

Daly loves this course. Has since he, the late Payne Stewart and Fred Couples won the Dunhill Cup here in 1994.

“I don't know why,’’ Daly said. “ It just suits my game.  Like I said, come here, I guess they're going to have it back here in seven years, it may be playing 8,500 yards long and I may not be long anymore.

 “ … Like I said, for me it's just a golf course that not only brings great memories, but it's a memory before you've ever played it because of all the great players that have won and played it.  So it's just a special place,” he added. “It's to me my favorite course all over the world that I've ever played. When you've got that going for you, you don't feel disappointed when you don't play so well, but you feel even better when you do play well.’’

The Brits love him because of his imperfections, not despite them. He won his second major here in ’95 with a floppy blond mullet bouncing in the wind. He was known as “Wild Thing” back then -- an outrageous chain-smoking, hard-drinking, good-ol’ Arkansas boy with the gift of gab.

And now?  He’s 44 and on yet another comeback; another shot at redemption. He’s a bit more patient, a little more mellow and maybe a little wiser. Maybe, he said, he’s the “Mild Thing.”

“I've never ran from my mistakes,’’ he said. “I've always kind of been the man that you're supposed to be when you screw up, and I've screwed up an awful lot, not just on Tour but in other aspects of life.  And like I said before, I think it's how you come back and deal with it.

“I don't know if it's motivation for fans or if it's helping them. Whatever it is, as long as it's a positive, to me that's all that matters. You know, something great was to happen this week when you have so many ups and downs in life like everybody does, so much smaller and bigger, but it makes it so much more gratifying when you do something special.’’

Which this opening round was. He birdied the first two holes, and turned 5 under and at the top of the board. He birdied the first two holes on the back nine, too and got to 7 under, which had everyone wondering what in the devil was happening.

This, after all, was a former champion whose recent history has lent itself to more 80-somethings and WDs rather than leader boards. Then again, he wasn’t playing that great when he showed up in 1995, either, and he threw out an opening 67, chased it with rounds of 71-73-71 and beat Costantino Rocca in a playoff.

“There's just something peaceful about this place,’’ Daly said.  I remember when I came here in '95, I wasn't playing good golf.  I was playing horrible golf.  I think I had come off missing a few cuts and didn't know what to expect, but I knew how much I loved this place.

“You don't really think about it too much.  It's just more of a place whether the wind is blowing 50 miles an hour or it's a calm day like today, it's just one of those places that I just love,” he added. “And it's more at peace than it is anything else.  I don't know how other players look at it, but I think a lot of them look at it the same way.
 
“When you've won here, it makes it even more special.’’

What makes Daly special? The little things. Like constantly looking for redemption. And swearing he can’t pronounce his opening-day playing partner’s name -- Seung-Yul Noh. We’re betting it’s the first name he’s having trouble with. Although there was a time, too, when he couldn’t say no(h).

“(Noh is) 19 years old, and he just said he absolutely loves it here,’’ Daly said. “That kid is going to be phenomenal.  He's a good ball striker. But I think everybody that comes here, it's one of those places that you either just absolutely love or you absolutely hate.’’

We know Daly’s thoughts. And we know, too, that sometimes all it takes is a comfort zone to turn a week -- and a season -- around.

“I feel the game is coming around, and when I'm hitting my driver the way I am right now, it brings confidence,’’ Daly said. “A lot of guys when they're putting well it brings them confidence, but for me I've never been a great, great putter, but I've never been a horrible, horrible putter.  I've always been kind of in between.’’

He left a few on the lip or nearby Thursday, but no complaints. He’s come a long way from the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines when he was frustrated and talked about possibly quitting the game.

“I'm probably the only idiot that would say it on TV, but it's like I talked to Tim Herron, he's said, ‘I wanted to quit a million times,’” Daly said. “There's a lot of guys that say it. But I love the game too much, and I think there's not too many players that haven't said it, but I was just the idiot that said it on TV.’’

Thursday, though, the fans weren’t thinking about that. They were thinking their blue collar hero was on the board with the likes of McIlroy, Tiger Woods and former U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover.

Before he headed to lunch, someone asked what it would mean if – IF -- Daly could hang on and win his second Open and third major. And first event period since the 2004 Buick Invitational.
 
“I would appreciate it probably more than any tournament that I've won,’’ he said. “I had that long, long drought.  I hadn't won a tournament since '95 until San Diego in '04.  But I had played some good golf in between there, had some chances to win.  But I think just the injury    I was never used to being hurt for that long, and to be able to finally get it    feel like I'm getting healthier and being able to work on my game and some confidence built up, it would be just the most gratifying victory I could ever have.’’

He paused.

“If it doesn't happen here, if it just happens again, I don't care if it happens on a Nationwide event, a Tour event or a European event, just that I'm feeling comfortable about any game where I can hopefully put myself in a position to win.’’

Not just to get dressed in the dark.

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