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Breathtaking: Sun, course and Daly’s pants

No one knew what to expect when the PGA Championship finally started Thursday at the Ocean Course.

And into the plot walked John Daly.

His hair is now Hulk Hogan blond and his pants were a patterned combination of orange, black and white, like something a Shriner might wear in a parade. He wore more ads than a magazine, touting his Loudmouth clothier, his own website, a Chevy dealership and a few other enterprises.

Daly shot 4-under-par 68 Thursday, strolling through the muggy heat in the morning before the wind kicked up in the afternoon, and then he stopped to talk with musician Darius Rucker about playing a concert together next spring.

Just another day at the beach.

If Daly’s presence among the leaders was a surprise, it probably shouldn’t have been given his recent solid play, but Thursday arrived as a question mark wrapped in sunscreen, a sweat towel and a playful breeze off the Atlantic.

No one knew what was coming.

Tiger Woods looked up on the third tee and saw playing partner Keegan Bradley 3-under par through two holes.

“I mean, jeez,” Woods said.

Joost Luiten, yes, that Joost Luiten, was 8 under through 14 holes then closed with four straight bogeys. Like Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, Luiten wore two gloves Thursday, which is why he’s called Joost ‘Twee Handschoenen’ Luiten at home in The Netherlands.

U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson needed an oil can he was so rusty.

Rory McIlroy played like the next Tiger Woods again, shooting a smooth 67, and smiling like a guy who knows there’s more to come.

Tiger played like Tiger.

And the lead was held by the self-proclaimed Swedish redneck, Carl Pettersson, who lives in Raleigh and won four months ago just down the coast at Hilton Head on a course designed by Pete Dye, the man responsible for the Ocean Course.

For the locals, this moment has been seven years in the making and, aside from the obvious logistical challenges of getting players and fans to the Ocean Course, it came off nicely. It’s just, well, different.

A concession stand is called a beverage oasis. Players can ground their clubs in the sand (“It just felt weird,” Woods said). The Ocean Course, with its dunes and dips and dangers, is a breed apart.

“It’s pretty unique,” said Geoff Ogilvy, a connoisseur of classic course design. “There are spots where every now and then it feels like someplace and I can’t really put my finger on it.

“It’s got a bit of a Whistling Straits feel, especially on the back nine with the dunes. This is actually a real ocean, not a Michigan ocean. It’s very grand, the back nine, a big scale.”

Grand as in the 250-yard, par-3 14th hole, the back-nine version of a hairpin turn where the course reroutes itself from running south to running north again. The putting surface sits atop an old dune and the sides run off like rain on a roof.

Ogilvy played with Jason Dufner and Paul Casey and in front of Woods, Martin Kaymer and Keegan Bradley. None of the six hit the green at the 14th. The term “over the top” comes to mind, perhaps because Ogilvy used it.

That was an exception rather than the rule. If the forecasted wind gusts of 30 mph arrive Friday, this PGA Championship could turn into a dark comedy. It’s one thing to be challenged by the wind, another thing to be at its mercy.

For a start, though, it was a good one. The sun was out. The breeze was refreshing. Woods even took time to tell a story about the first time he played with Daly years ago, saying Big John hit his golf ball so hard it was oblong when he came to rest on the green.

Another day at the beach.