ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Rory McIlroy set the standard at the British Open today posting 63, while John Daly hit 66 and Tiger Woods 67.
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Daly's scorecard was the only thing getting more attention than his pants.
Golf's most entertaining sideshow was at it again Thursday, tying his best round at the British Open with a 6-under 66 on the Old Course. It put him atop the leaderboard, a spot that, regardless how brief the stay, would have been unimaginable during the latest chapter in his pulp fiction life.
Tiger Woods file photo
"I've never ran from my mistakes. 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," Daly said. "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.
"When you have so many ups and downs in life, like everybody does, some smaller and bigger, it makes it so much more gratifying when you do something special."
Daly birdied seven of the first 11 holes, and he might have challenged McIlroy if not for four putts that lipped out. One, on 17, led to his only bogey of the day.
That Daly is a spectacular talent has never been in doubt. You don't go from last alternate to major champion, as he did at the 1991 PGA Championship, without considerable game. And you sure don't win a second major — the British Open here at St. Andrews, no less — by being lucky.
Daly is Everyman. Fans can't help but be charmed, seeing a little bit of themselves in him. Or maybe a little bit of who they would like to be. He hits driver when he should hit irons. He goes for shots that inevitably end badly. He believes "grip it and rip it" is more than just a cute slogan.
Daly's nickname was "Wild Thing," and he more than lived up to it.
Among other things, he trashed a hotel room in 1997 during The Players Championship and once did a TV interview to promote a golf course wearing only blue jeans. No shirt, no shoes. The PGA Tour has put him in timeout-mode five times (his disciplinary file was a hefty 456 pages as of the fall of 2008), fined him $100,000 and ordered him to attend counseling or alcohol rehab seven times. He's also lost part of a considerable fortune to four ex-wives, gambling and bad loans to friends.
But at 44, even Daly has had enough of his high-wire act.
He's lost almost 100 pounds since having Lap-Band surgery in February 2009, and said he quit drinking and eating as much junk. The rib and back injuries that made it painful to get his game back in shape have healed.
"I feel like I'm getting healthier," Daly said. "Being able to work on my game and get some confidence built up, (winning) would be just the most gratifying victory I could ever have."
There's still a long way to go. Daly has three victories worldwide since winning the British Open 15 years ago, and has dropped to 455th in the world rankings. He has just one top-50 finish this year, a tie for 24th at the Puerto Rico Open, and sounded as if he was ready to quit after missing the cut at Torrey Pines earlier this year.
After turning back the clock with a first-round 67 at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills that left him two strokes off the lead, he followed it up with a 73 and ultimately wound up tied for 32nd.
"I'm not out of it. I'm in it, even if somebody goes out and shoots 7- or 8-under," Daly said. "I feel the game is coming around, and when I'm hitting my driver the way I am right now, it brings confidence."
Gives the fans a thrill, too.
There were appreciative whoops and hollers with every thwack of his driver, and encouraging shouts of "Go get 'em, JD!" As Daly strolled up the 18th fairway — smoking a cigarette — one fan in the crowd held up a sign reading, "John Daly the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment." Another carried a poster that said, "John Daly Living Legend."
"He's a role model," one of the men said.
Even with the wacky wardrobe.
Daly may have ditched that shaggy mullet he sported back in 1995, but now he's wearing pants that can only be described as garish. Thursday's choice was lavender paisley (his girlfriend wore a matching miniskirt).
"All of these pants, the good thing about them is you get dressed in the dark, any shirt is going to match," Daly said.
Not really. Daly's sky-blue sweater, peach shirt and turquoise hat were cringe-worthy, more acceptable for a 3-year-old dressing himself.
But as Daly is trying to prove, it's his game that matters.
"It's just a great course and I just love it. I don't know why, it just suits my game," he said. "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."