ST. ANDREWS, Scotland - And we thought the loudest thing coming from John Daly this week was the neon paisley dinner jacket he wore with the former champions Tuesday night.
Bright and early this morning, the oft-maligned Daly found a better way to get noticed. With a slew of birdies on the rain-softened Old Course, Daly transformed from court jester to tournament leader in the first round of the British Open Championship.
Daly -- wearing a pastel ensemble called "Paiseltines" that he dubs his "good-luck start pants" -- shot an opening 66, tied for second three behind morning rabbit Rory McIlroy, who came a missed 3-footer on 17 from becoming the first player in history to shoot 62 in a major. Tiger Woods opened his St. Andrews three-peat quest with a 67 while former Augusta State golfer Oliver Wilson shot 68 on the top-heavy leaderboard.
"It's good to be sitting here," said Daly in his press conference. "I think this is the first time I've seen the inside of the media centre at the British Open since 1995. It's a good feeling."
Sans the mullet he wore in winning the 1995 Open Championship at St. Andrews in a playoff against Costantino Rocca and down to 195 pounds, Daly displayed the combination of power and touch that helped make him a cult figure with two major wins in his first five years on tour.
With soft rains and little to no wind leaving the Old Course defenseless against the morning wave, Daly made the most of it while reminding everyone just how good he used to be. He started out birdie-birdie and added another at 6, but that was just a warm-up for what was to come when he hit the famous loop at the far end of the stretch-out links.
With relative ease, Daly started knocking down pins and rolling in birdies by the bushel. A streak of four consecutive birdies on 8, 9, 10 and 11 was only halted when a 5-footer for another on 12 spun around the lip of the cup.
From there it was a series of missed opportunities to the clubhouse - the lone hiccup on his day a bogey from off the footpath that runs along the road on the famous Road Hole.
"The way I hit my driver today I had so many opportunities," Daly said.
The same could be said for Daly's career that has been filled with second chances. Through all of his personal derailments, Daly keeps plugging along. The release of his confidential PGA Tour file that became public record in a libel suit against the Florida Times-Union detailed numerous disciplinary incidents spanning 456 pages and 18 years. Daly was fined nearly $100,000 during that span, suspended from the tour five times, placed on probation six times, cited 11 times for "conduct unbecoming a professional" and 21 times for "failure to give best efforts." He was also ordered seven times by the tour to undergo counseling or rehab.
And that report didn't include his most recent six-month suspension last season.
"I'm 44 years old," he said. "I've learned a lot. I have never run from my mistakes. I've always been honest with you guys and everybody around me. You know, it's how you come back. I'm on a comeback."
Earlier this year after a dismal performance at Torrey Pines, Daly told the cameras rolling footage for his latest reality show that he was ready to quit the game.
"I'm done," he said. "I can't compete. I can't play like I use too. I can't keep taking spots from guys out here playing this bad. It's not worth it. I'm tired of embarrassing myself in front of (my fans). I can't do it any more."
Daly said getting from that low to this high was really no big deal and that he "loves the game too much" to quit.
"I think there's not too many players that haven't said it," he said, "but I was just the idiot that said it on TV."
His fans continue to back him. Following him around St. Andrews were legions of folks wearing the same Loudmouth pants that Daly sports. Along The Links road that sidles the 18th hole, two fans carried signs that read "Daly for President: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment" and "John Daly: Living Legend."
While there's a lot of golf to be played and a plethora of great golfers to contend with at St. Andrews, what might a victory this week mean to Daly?
"I would appreciate it probably more than any tournament that I've won," he said. "It would be just the most gratifying victory I could ever have. 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."
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org