KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - John Daly is 46 now, with a face that is growing leathery and a sluggish gait slowed all the more by the slightest limp. His shoulders sag, he has had lap-band surgery and he seems mildly embarrassed -- and like something from another era -- when he steps aside, turning his back to light a cigarette.
But the eyes still twinkle, and Thursday his pants were incandescent splotches of orange and black. His golf shirt screamed to the everyman populace with a NASCAR sensibility. There was a logo for Blue Collar Golf on the right breast, another for Loud Mouth apparel on the opposite breast, the insignia for a Chevy dealer on one sleeve and the address of his personal website on the other sleeve. There were other badges and emblems, not all of them legible, but clearly no one was being turned away.
As the click-on box at the top of his website says: Own a piece of John Daly.
During the first round of the 2012 PGA Championship on Thursday, fans bought in by the thousands as boisterous galleries could not get enough of a middle-aged John Daly playing like the old John Daly. They hooted, chanted his name and cheered as Daly stole the event's opening act, finishing with a 4-under-par 68, just two strokes off the lead held by Carl Pettersson.
On a day with hot, humid and benign conditions, four golfers, including Rory McIlory, were one stroke ahead of Daly, who was tied with seven other golfers. Tiger Woods headlined a throng of golfers a stroke behind Daly.
"It sure was getting good and loud out there," Daly said, describing the raucous scene around him that might have been at home at Darlington Raceway 160 miles away. "I love when it gets like that. Some guys out here don't like crowds of people yelling and screaming, but not me. I say, 'Let's have some fun.'"
Fun is, of course, what made Daly famous, and infamous. He won the 1991 PGA Championship as an alternate, captured a British Open title four years later and then dropped hundreds of spots in the world golf rankings in a blur of suits, suspensions and sobriety issues.
"But that's what draws people to me and my golf game," he said. "It is up and down. So is my life. Everybody's life is up and down. It's how we battle to get through it, and people relate to that."
Daly was one of dozens of players taking advantage of the benevolent scoring conditions at the usually daunting Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. With temperatures in the 90s, greens softened by rain earlier in the week and only a light breeze, more than 40 golfers were under par in the first round.
"I've been playing good, just trying to keep it at my own pace, just be myself and play golf," said Daly, coming off a five-place tie last week in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
Daly used his length to navigate the 7,676-yard layout -- by 2 yards the longest in major championship golf -- and a short game that kept him near the top. He briefly gained a share of the lead at 4 under with an eagle on the par-5 11th, then gave back a stroke a hole later, a bobble that in the past might have unnerved Daly for additional mistakes.
This time, Daly held firm with two more birdies on the way in. He saved par from left of the green on the difficult 18th, rolling in a 12-footer.
Will his good play continue this weekend? He isn't worried about it.
"If I walk out of here knowing I played the best I can, that's all that matters," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.