Daly's one-man show leaves followers on a high

It seemed appropriate that John Daly, whose past or present addictions include alcohol, gambling, cheeseburgers, chocolate and peroxide Southern belles, should be the star performer yesterday on a hole called "High". High is the name of the 11th hole on the Old Course. It is a fiendishly tricky par three at the furthest extremity of the course, protected by the ferocious Strath Bunker rather as Cerberus guarded Hades. And if the wind is swirling in from the Eden Estuary, as it was in warm sunshine yesterday, High becomes even harder. Colin Montgomerie was one of many top players humbled there, failing to get anywhere near the green with his first two efforts, and leaving the third at least 30 yards from the flag. The fact that Monty then sauntered off, wreathed in smiles, signified that this was merely a dress rehearsal before today's main event.

It seemed appropriate that John Daly, whose past or present addictions include alcohol, gambling, cheeseburgers, chocolate and peroxide Southern belles, should be the star performer yesterday on a hole called "High". High is the name of the 11th hole on the Old Course. It is a fiendishly tricky par three at the furthest extremity of the course, protected by the ferocious Strath Bunker rather as Cerberus guarded Hades. And if the wind is swirling in from the Eden Estuary, as it was in warm sunshine yesterday, High becomes even harder. Colin Montgomerie was one of many top players humbled there, failing to get anywhere near the green with his first two efforts, and leaving the third at least 30 yards from the flag. The fact that Monty then sauntered off, wreathed in smiles, signified that this was merely a dress rehearsal before today's main event.

And just to reinforce the point, Daly then stepped up, having already amazed and delighted the crowd by holing a series of 25-foot putts on the 10th green using only his left hand. Even his playing partner, a portly fellow by the name of Nicklaus, was impressed. The great man, wearing a garish turquoise shirt that could just about be excused on the grounds that he is profoundly colour blind, picked up Daly's putter and scrutinised it. But Daly - "Wild Thing" to his fans, "grip it and rip it" the exhortation on his bag - had only just started showing off. On the 11th he teed off with his putter - his putter! - and smacked the ball 180 yards through the green. It moved slightly left to right as it fizzed through the air. "Darn!" He exclaimed. "Ah cut it!"

Sporting Index is quoting Daly at 5-1 to record a 13 or worse on any hole at this Championship, following his downfall in the US Open at Pebble Beach, where he sat on the self-destruct button once again and took 14 strokes to complete the 18th hole. But the smarter money might back the occasionally troubled, always charismatic Tennesseean to actually to win the thing. After all, he already has a St Andrews Open under his generous belt, and his game - enormous power and the touch of an angel around the greens - could hardly be more suited to the Old Course.

Whatever happens, the scorching favourite Tiger Woods will surely not have it all his own way. I followed the Masters champion, Vijay Singh, in practice yesterday, and he, too, looked in wonderful form, although the Scottish hacks following him were more interested in the revelation that he once worked as a bouncer at a dodgy night-club in Edinburgh. Apparently, having failed to qualify for the 1987 Open at Muirfield, Vijay stuck around in Edinburgh and was given a job ejecting unwanted punters from the Amphitheatre on Lothian Road, an establishment spirit-ually about as far from the Augusta National as any you care to imagine.

Then there was Lee Westwood, the pick of a juicy four-ball also comprising Ernie Els, Sam Torrance and Ian Woosnam. These are not men, with the exception, perhaps, of Els, who can be described with a straight face as professional athletes. Indeed, on the fifth tee the less-than-svelte Westwood demolished a hamburger in roughly 30 seconds, much to the amusement of Torrance. "Don't think that we can't see you," said Torrance as Westwood crouched down behind his bag. "I don't care," said Westwood. "Just slap me if you see me eating a banana."

The spectators duly howled with laughter. For a moment, Torrance and Westwood became the heirs to Abbott and Costello. Comedy-wise, golf fans are not a discerning bunch.

Still, you couldn't blame anyone yesterday for having a smile on their face and a spring in their step. The sun sparkled on St Andrews Bay and the "auld grey toon" has never looked less grey. On the course and off, there was a lively carnival atmosphere. It even permeated Tesco's in Market Street, where a rotund American seemed so glad to be alive that he reached over and pumped the hand of the lad behind the till. "What's your name, son?" "Paul," said the bemused youngster. "Well, it's real nahce knowing you, Poll, real nahce."

The 11th tee, though, was the place to be. A succession of legends played gamely to the gallery, notably Gary Player, who knocked a five-wood stone dead and then simulated the walk of a bent old man, using his club as a walking stick. Tom Watson followed soon afterwards, and conducted the applause as his tee shot rolled inexorably down from the back of the green to within a few feet of the hole. Watson was playing with the inscrutable David Duval, and there was a significant moment when a young boy scampered under the ropes and ran up to Duval, waving an autograph book. The five-times Open champion Watson, who was standing next to Duval, was roundly ignored. Reputations count for nothing when you're eight years old. And they won't mean a great deal today, either, when the 129th Open begins in earnest.

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