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Another day, another reinvention for Daly

John Daly doesn't come across as a romantic.

He has a collection of broken marriages, sad songs and bad decisions. He's made almost as many apologies as he's made mistakes and, despite a career than includes two major championship victories, Daly is seen as a colossal disappointment, a victim of self-inflicted damage.

And that's essentially what he says about himself.

But bring Long John to the Old Course at St. Andrews and you might as well add candle light.

"I just love it. I don't know why," he said Thursday, a few minutes after shooting a 6-under par 66 that could have been lower.

There are, of course, three more rounds, a few squalls and a den of demons to go in this Open Championship, but Daly arrived in this ancient town with a suitcase full of loud clothes and a peaceful easy feeling.

His girlfriend, Anna Cladakis, was standing under an umbrella watching her man play the famous Road Hole and telling the story of their trip across the Atlantic that began with a top-25 performance at the Scottish Open last week at Loch Lomond.

"He said, 'I'm going to win this week,'" Cladakis said. "I said, 'Really?' He said, 'I love this place.'"

They're staying just up the hill from the first tee, on the edge of the North Sea and without a Hooters in sight. In a town where the Christian Reformation began, Daly talks like a reformed man.

He says he hasn't had a beer since his lap band surgery two years ago, a weight-loss decision he so believed in he had his daughter get the operation. He weighs about 195, approximately 100 pounds below where he peaked, and he can't indulge his cravings as he once did.

The stomach surgery makes it tough for him to eat chocolate, though he forces down a bit of it each day, he says. He carried a cup of Diet Coke with him on the course but he can't guzzle it like he did. He misses the half-gallon of whole milk he used to drink each day, which helped with his hangovers.

Daly did have a cigarette in his mouth as he played the 18th hole, evidence that not everything has changed. A man has limits, you know.

"I've never run from my mistakes. I've always been honest," Daly, 44, said. "It's how you come back. I'm on a comeback."

Daly was dressed like a paisley Easter egg Thursday, wearing various shades of purple, pink and blue. For a change, though, his game was louder than his Austin Powers-style trousers.

He's playing on sponsor exemptions this year and made nine straight cuts at one point, the kind of grinding work for which Daly hasn't always been known. The streak began not long after he said he was going to quit the game because he was sick of it. That was in February in San Diego, not long after his six-month PGA Tour suspension for various transgressions had been lifted.

Daly quit for a few days but the game pulled him back and here he is with his personnel file as thick as a Michener novel and the stubborn belief that he can still summon some of what he found here 15 years ago.

He hit 14 drivers on the Old Course, powering his way past the bunkers that freckle the place and freeing his mind to be aggressive.

What's been lost in Daly's train-wreck career is the level of his natural talent. Few players have ever possessed the combination of extraordinary power and touch he had in his prime.

For all the gasps his tee shots have drawn, his short game has been underappreciated. His hands are as soft as his pre-surgery belly.

He showed it Thursday with a delicate as a daisy pitch shot off a gravel road behind the 17th green. It was a reminder of how good he can be.

A fan walked up the road alongside the 18th hole as Daly was finishing, carrying a self-made sign that read, "John Daly is the most electrifying man in sports entertainment."

That's debatable but it's fair to say he's been among the most combustible men in sports.

When he won here in 1995, he was the hard-drinking, mullet-wearing Wild Thing.

Not anymore, Daly said.

"Mild Thing," he called himself.

Such a romantic.

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