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Daly, the "Mild Thing", tames St Andrews again

By Miles Evans

ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - John Daly has become more synonymous with alcoholism, divorces and gambling debts than for his golfing prowess but the reformed hellraiser reminded everyone on Thursday what a sublime player he can be.

The 44-year-old American, a lot lighter and a lot wiser since he won the Open here 15 years ago, played golf as dazzling as his lilac and green pants to hit a first-round, six-under 66 in the 150th anniversary British Open.

"I'm 44 years old. I've learned a lot. I have never run from my mistakes," Daly confided to a news conference after his seven-birdie round in flat, calm conditions on the opening morning at the Old Course.

Since stomach surgery a year ago, the Daly diet has changed dramatically; no huge amounts of fatty food, no alcohol -- some feat for a player who has been known to tee-off from a beer can in pro-ams -- and the result is a slimline, crisp hitter finding his best form after a frustrating rib injury.

Daly brought back memories of his odds-defying win at St Andrews in 1995 with a superb display of course management that gave him seven birdies and just one bogey after he hit a seven iron "too good" into the 17th 'Road' hole and found a path over the green.

Several birdie chances went begging as the magic touch with his putter deserted him on the back nine but Daly nodded his appreciation of the crowd's applause on the 18th green, knowing that again he had got one over his favorite course.

"I fell in love with it (the course) in '94 in the Dunhill Cup when me, Payne Stewart and Freddie (Couples) won. It's a great course, I just love it.

GREAT MEMORIES

"It's 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. It's to me my favorite course all over the world that I've ever played."

The worst of his hellraising days are hopefully behind him -- he was dubbed 'Wild Thing' almost since he burst on to the golfing consciousness with his 1991 win at the U.S. PGA Championship -- but he remains an endearing eccentric.

A clothing deal means he always takes to the course in the most eye-catching attire, Thursday's 'lucky pants' accompanied by a bright pink shirt and lilac sleeveless sweater.

"All of these pants, the good thing about them is you get dressed in the dark, any shirt is going to match," joked Daly.

He even sported the most garish green and orange jacket for Tuesday's Champions Dinner; Tiger Woods, Tom Watson and Arnold Palmer some of his company in more sober attire.

So what should the world's press call Daly now his sex, drugs and rock'n roll lifestyle is a fading memory?

"I don't know," the American chuckled. 'Mild thing?'

(Editing by Tony Jimenez; To query or comment on this story emailsportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)