"Wild Thing", as Daly has been known for his troubled times off the golf course, has turned into a self-proclaimed "Mild Thing".
'Mild thing' Daly happy to roll back the years
John Daly has much in common with Tiger Woods at St Andrews this week. Both are previous winners at the most famous of all links courses. Both are big-hitting crowd-pullers. And both are prone to falling below the standards of behaviour expected of leading professionals. Unlike Woods, though, Daly has never tried to hide his craving for the less-gentlemanly aspects of life and has largely escaped the sort of character assassination that Woods is undergoing.
"Wild Thing", as Daly has been known for his troubled times off the golf course, has turned into a self-proclaimed "Mild Thing". Lap band surgery 18 months ago has resulted in Daly's once-bloated 132kg frame slimming down to a more manageable fighting weight of 89kg. It has improved his diet, preventing him from being able to digest the junk food he used to consume and the "half a gallon a day" of fresh milk he used to guzzle as an antidote to other forms of liquid intake.
The drastic measures enabled the popular American to roll back the years on the Old Course yesterday, romping into the early lead with the type of birdie blitz that propelled him to victory in 1995. Daly, whose six-under-par clubhouse target of 66 was eventually passed by Rory McIlroy, revelled in what he described as his first look inside the Open media centre for 15 years. Still wearing his eye-catching purple paisley trousers, which he says are a match for any of the 32 golf shirts he has in his wardrobe, Daly was typically forthright about his personal defects.
"I've never run from my mistakes," he said. I've always been honest with you guys and everybody around me. I have screwed up an awful lot, not just on tour but in other aspects of life. "I think it is how you come back and deal with it. As long as it is in a positive way that's all that matters to me. If something great were to happen this week it would be fantastic. When you have so many ups and downs in life it makes it more gratifying when you do something special."
Daly, 44, who first shot to prominence with a totally unexpected US PGA championship victory 19 years ago, was on the verge of retiring from the game after a persistent rib injury contributed to a sharp rankings decline and consequent loss of Tour privileges. "There are a lot of guys who talk about quitting when they are upset with the way they are playing," he said. "I was just the idiot who said it on TV. But I love the game too much to do anything like that."
Daly's new-found calmness enabled him to dismiss philosophically a solitary lapse in an otherwise impeccable opening round of seven birdies. It came at the 17th, the notorious Road Hole, which has been lengthened this year to make it even more difficult. "I hit a decent shot there and it just ran off the green," he said. "So it's OK when that happens. It's when you pull hook, chunk it in the left bunker and make seven that you should worry."