U.S. Open Hale champion Irwin, playing consistently in the cold howling wind, shot a second steady 68 today to take a two-stroke lead halfway through the 108th British Open golf championship.
If Irwin can hold on through two more days of trying weather on the unpredictable Royal Lytham St. Annes course, he would become only the fifth golfer to win both the U.S. and British Opens in the same year.
Bobby Jones did it twice - in 1926, when he won the first British Open to be played on this seaside course, and in 1930. Gene Sarazen won both in 1932, Ben Hogan followed in 1953 and Lee Trevino did it in 1971.
Irwin has scored his two-day total of 136, six under par, in an unspectacular and workmanlike way while others were shooting wildly all around him. Today, he stayed on the narrow fairways and hit most of the greens in regulation while making 15 pars and three birdies. He bogeyed only one hole in the first round.
His nearest challenger, Spain's Seve Ballesteros, seldom hit the fairway with his tee shots today but scrambled with short irons and long putts to a six-under-par 65 that put him two shots behind Irwin at 138.
Ballesteros, a consistent winner in Europe, decided he did not really mind the narrow fairways here because he seemed to be at his best finding a way out of the rough.
"I'd like to see the fairways narrower here," he said, "because then everyone would drive more into the rough. We should play one British Open without fairways, then I would be very close to winning."
Yesterday's surprise first-round leader, Britain's Bill Longmuir, plopped his ball into four sand traps and under one spectator stand today while soaring to a 74. Combined with his scrambling 65 yesterday, that left him three strokes behind Irwin at 139.
Although he acknowledged he did not play well today and could have scored much worse, Longmuir said he was not unnerved by his overnight fame.
"I slept like a log last night," he said. "If I had the choice, I would want to be last onto the course tomorrow and would love to play with Jack Nicklaus."
One stroke farther back at 140 is Tom Watson, whose putter saved him after frequent wood and iron shots into the rough in gusty crosswinds on the especially difficult back nine here.
"It is very hard to play aggressive golf on this kind of course in this kind of weather," Watson said. "You just have to play defensively and watch out for the trouble spots."
Nicklaus, the defending champion, started out aggressively today and made a dramatic run at Irwin. Playing just two threesomes behind Irwin, Nicklaus pulled within a stroke of the leader with six birdies on the first 10 holes by successfully charging the greens and holing long putts.
Then Nicklaus blew up again in equally spectacular fashion on the tough finishing holes of the back nine, losing five strokes to par in five holes to finish with 69 for a one-under-par 141 and a tie with new Zealand's Dennis clark, five strokes off the lead.
Nobody else was under par for the two days. The cut eliminated all but 82 golfers who have 152 (10 over par) or better for the final two rounds.
Nicklaus has found the going especially tough on the back nine at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. His 39 there today spoiled a 30 on the front nine and his 40 coming in yesterday canceled a 32 going out. In 14 rounds in the four British Open championships he has played on this course. Nicklaus is cumulatively 24 strokes over par.
His trouble today began on the 12th hole, a 201-yard par-3 with an elevated green surrounded by high mounds and deep bunkers and accessible only through one of the course's nastiest crosswinds.
Countless drives blew to the right there today, landing in sand traps, behind mounds, on a bordering pedestrian walkway and even in an adjacent parking lot.
Nicklaus was saved from the parking lot when his ball hit a spectator and bounced back into one of the sand traps. Two chips and two putts later, he had a double-bogey 5 and Irwin had breathing room again.
Nicklaus then added bogey-5s on the 14th, 15th and 16th, a string of holes into the teeth of the wind.
For a time, however, as Irwin tackled the treacherous back nine after scoring his three birdies on the three par-3s of the front nine, the leader watched the board closely as Nicklaus rapidly narrowed the gap.
Irwin said Nicklaus' charge did not bother him, but during it he missed birdie putts by inches on five straight holes, from 10 through 14.
Although he felt he played "the kind of very steady round I liked" today, Irwin admitted his putting on the back nine "left something to be desired."
"I had several birdie opportunities, none of which I cashed in on," he said. "I kept telling myself pars were good enough under these conditions."
When he needed his putter, it did not fail. He put in a tricky eight-footer after scrambling onto the green of the 469-yard, par-4 No. 15 and holed a dramatic 35-foot putt on the 18th after hitting one of his few poor drives into a fairway bunker.
"That last putt was important psychologically because I didn't want to lose the chance to play the round without a bogey," Irwin said later.
"In the end, I was pleased. Once you make the turn after the first nine here and the wind is slapping at you, it's hard to keep that kind of going." going. "
Among those making the cut was Lee Elder, who added a 72 today to his 75 yesterday for 147, five over par and 11 behind Irwin.
Both Gary Player and his 17-year-old son, Wayne, also survived the cut, with Wayne still leading his father by a stroke, 150 to 151. CAPTION: Picture, Hale Irwin