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Welcoming the distractions

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — It was a strange and fascinating Thursday, this opening round of the 150th anniversary British Open. The past and future trumped the present.

From the depths of memory came lumbering John Daly, 44 and no longer lumbering. His greatest moment in golf was 50 pounds ago at the 1995 British Open, which he won at this same seaside shrine to the game. His second-greatest moment, with apologies to his 1991 PGA Championship title, might well have been the 6-under 66 he shot Thursday.

A few groups behind him strode the future, a 21-year-old from Northern Ireland named Rory McIlroy, who did Daly three better with a 63 and mused later that he had given thought to a 62, knowing the best major-championship round ever, anywhere, is 63.

Then there was Tiger Woods, at 34 the game's No. 1 player, its present standard bearer. Daly and McIlroy set their sights on tomorrow. Woods sets his on Jack Nicklaus' major tournament records.

It wasn't so much that everyone failed to recognize how well Woods had positioned himself for the next three days with a 67, or how forgiving and playable this unforgiving and unplayable course was. The Daly and McIlroy stories were simply a

fresh change from sole focus on Woods' stone-faced march toward redemption.

Walking these sacred fairways in his pajamas, proving there is no dress code at St. Andrews, Daly was in pink shirt, baby blue sweater vest and pants that appeared to be modern art gone bad. He called the pants his "Paiseltine." He has been wearing combinations of these for months, in an attempt to call attention to himself, since his game no longer did.

"The good thing about (the pants)," Daly said, "is you can get dressed in the dark, and any shirt is going to match."

He has had the Lap-Band procedure to control his weight, said he weighs "between 190 and 195 pounds," said he no longer can drink beer because it won't stay down and said he especially misses vitamin D milk.

"I used to drink half a gallon a day," he said. "When you used to be as hung over as I used to be, it was great. Got rid of everything."

McIlroy is recognizable not by pants but by thick, black, curly hair flowing from under his cap.

He is also recognizable as a prodigy, a status beginning with the day he shot a 61 at Royal Portrush. He was 16.

Many picked him to win this event because, like Daly, he plays the course by merely hitting drives over all those dreadful pot bunkers positioned to swallow up shots of the shorter hitters, those who can hit it only a measly 320.

McIlroy was asked to describe his previous rounds at St. Andrews, six as an amateur and two as a pro. He paused, then reported, "69, 69, 67, 68, 67, 68, 65, 69." He added, "I've never played St. Andrews when the weather has been that bad."

Woods did a couple of TV interviews after his round and drifted away, as is his option. No need to face the same questions in the same big room.

Besides, on this day, Daly and McIlroy had the better answers.

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