John Daly returns to scene of 1995 Open triumph

An inventory of John Daly’s life in the 20 years since he won the Open here would read something like this: earned a fortune, gambled away a fortune. As for wives, well, soon-to-be Mrs John Daly No 5 was on the Wild Thing’s bag yesterday.

John Daly tees off at the second hole at St Andrews yesterday. Picture: Getty

Such details are probably why there was a documentary-making crew following Daly around yesterday.

It wasn’t much like 1995, when thousands rushed to get into position to watch Daly’s play-off with Constantino Rocca, after the Italian’s inspired putt through the Valley of Sin.

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But his continued box office is underlined by the fact he is being trailed by a team putting together a documentary on Daly to be shown on ESPN as part of their well-received 30 for 30 series.

“He has been very co-operative,” one of the crew stressed. The film’s working title? Hit It Hard. Daly was trying his damnedest to do that yesterday. However, the wind gusted at the wrong time for someone who teed off shortly after lunch.

The usual cheers greeted his arrival at the first tee. It’s good to see that Daly remains a big draw in the galleries. Hence his appearance later this month in downtown Murcur for the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play, where he has been handed one of two wild cards – Lawrie has bagged the other. According to Daly, they are friends, so he was particularly happy to see the Aberdonian’s name suddenly appear on the leaderboard yesterday.

“I was giving the fist when he was on five-under, when he was coming up the 14 I think it was,” said Daly. “I was giving it the fist salute. He’s a good buddy.”

The thing is, Daly was doing pretty well himself at one point. He got to four-under after ten holes, nine shots better than Tiger Woods had been at that stage, and just one worse off than Jordan Spieth.

But then the wind whipped up and even someone known primarily for his distance off the tee was going to struggle in these conditions. He dropped shots at 11 and 12 and though he picked up his sixth and last birdie of the round at 14, he shed another shot on the very next hole. According to Daly, the conditions were about the worst he’d known here.

“It is as tough as I have seen it,” he said. “Usually when the wind blows that hard, you could get through it, but that was just survival out there on the back nine.”

But Daly still seemed fairly content, something indicated by his willingness to talk afterwards. As much as he adores the Open, he hasn’t always viewed the post recorder’s hut press briefing as part of the appeal.

He and the spectator-friendly group made up by Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jason Dufner – which before the last-named player’s recent startling weight loss could have been termed heavyweight in every sense – looked very comfortable in each other’s company. As did Daly and his fiancée, Anna Cladakis, who are set to marry on a yacht in the Bosphorus before the year is out.

For someone whose life is reportedly as chaotic as Daly’s, marrying your caddie might sound like a recipe for disaster. In fact, just making someone you met through a sponsorship tie-up with Hooters, your caddie sounds like a recipe for disaster.

But the synergy appeared fine yesterday, with Daly and 
Cladakis even sweetly sharing a jar of lip balm at one point.

She was sent to the bar as Daly waited to tee-off at the 10th, the wind in his sails after two birdies in three holes. “Hang on, aren’t you supposed to be…” someone asked as Cladakis was spotted standing in line at the Open Arms with an empty pint glass in one hand.

“Don’t say JD is back on the booze again,” someone else quipped. But, no, he wasn’t in need of a quick pick-me-up – well, not of the alcoholic variety at least. Cladakis asked for the glass to be filled with ice, and when she returned to the tee, she unzipped a pocket in her bag and pulled out a bottle of Diet Coke, Daly’s substitute poison.

So there he was as he waited to tee off during the first round of the Open at the place he loves best, supping on a pint, smoking a fag. “Like a pig in sh*t,” someone suggested.

Although he bogeyed the 16th and 17th holes to turn a very good round of 69 into a still decent one of 71, he was simply relieved to have shot in the red. It is no coincidence that his next-best Open finish after his memorable victory was also here, when he finished tied-for-15th in 2005.

“I just love this place. I have had success on it, it suits my eye, I know where everything is on it,” said Daly, while also expressing amazement when it was noted he will have turned 50 by next year’s Open.

As a former champion, he is exempt until he is 60. So that’s two more St Andrews Opens for him to try and emulate 1995 – but hell, don’t rule him out here yet.