Jack Nicklaus, Andy North and John Cook made a fascinating trio playing together today - the perennial champion of golf, the defending U.S. Open champion and the young U.S. Amateur champ who is destined for greatness.
Each gave a perfect illustration of the state of his game in the Open's first round: Nicklaus (74) left the course in a suppressed rage and North (77) in total dejection, while Cook (71) walked off cool, poised and just a shot off the lead.
"I don't know what to say about my round," said Nicklaus, who is in danger of becoming a full-fledged head case - totally at sea about what ails him.
"I could have assessed it a lot better 20 minutes ago . . . it was pretty good then, before I played the 18th hole."
That final hole was a brutal double bogey, turning a tolerable 72 into a damaging 74 that forces Nicklaus to try to make up ground on a course that gives up few birdies.
"Once again today, I played well enough to shoot a good score . . . but I didn't," said Nicklaus, who has misplaced golf's most mysterious skill - the ability to translate good shots into good scores.
"I played all the tough holes well and all the easy holes poorly . . . I'm fairly annoyed, but then I've been fairly annoved at myself all year."
On the first hole, Nicklaus missed "an 18-inch putt for a bogey . . . just a real nice way to start the U.S. Open."
By the 18th, Nicklaus was simmering from his combination of flubbed birdie chance - a half-dozen of them - and errors in judgment. Perhaps a double bogey was his self-inflicted punishment.
His drive leaked into the right rough on the 354-yard par-4.
"Your second shot can be anywhere except long or right . . . I managed both of those," he said. "My ball was down in a hole. I had an impossible chip, needed two shots to get on the green, then missed a five-footer. Easy 6. Nothing to it, if you plan it out right."
It took North only six holes to insure that he would be a former Open champion. By then, he was six over par, had knocked one ball into a pond and was off the leader board, presumably for the duration.
By the sixth green, North, who has slipped to 62nd on the money list after winning $150,398 last year, was crouched with his head in his hands. His year as golf's Cinderella had truly come to an end.
Cook, however, gave every sign that his career will be long and dotted with titles. Although he has not yet reached his senior year at Ohio State, Cook, with his slim, blond good looks and shrewd course judgment, already seems like a familiar face.
His 71 was impressive because he knocked 11 drives into the horrid Inverness rough: a certain prescription for shooting 80.
"I drove the ball the wildest of my life," Cook said quietly. "I only hit three fairways all day . . . and I birdied all three holes. I got up and down to save par six times."
Cook, who used only 27 putts, added, "I was everywhere but where you're supposed to be, but I never had a difficult putt all day. They were all uphill with almost no break - makable. Actually, I didn't make a putt over 12 feet all day.
"Of course," said Cook, "perhaps the reason was that I planned ahead and was always on the proper side of the hole with my shots. I always took the easy route."