This was a day that Jack Nicklaus described as "the worst day we've played in the British Open since 1964," at St. Andrews.

The conditions were such that defending champion Severiano Ballesteros felt "very lucky" to finish at one-over-par 72.

It also was a day that a pair of two-time winners of this prestigious golf tournament -- Tom Watson, the king of his sport over the past three years, and his closest challenger in this year's PGA Tour money standing, Lee Trevino -- successfully overcame the cold and rain of the Muirfield links to post lead-sharing 68s.

Tied at 69 after the first day of the 109th Open were three young Britons, an Australian and an unheralded Argentinian. Glenn Ralph was the early leader, posting his score shortly after a midday deluge hit the 6,926-yard, par-71 course. Nick Faldo, playing in a threesome with Nicklaus, was a putting wizard in managing his 69, while confident Mark James attributed his driving to his 69.

Anything but confident was Vincente Fernandez, who doubts his ability in conditions such as these. Jack Newton, one of the late finishers, had the other 69.

It was a miserable day, but the sun finally broke through as Trevino prepareed to hit a one-iron shot to the final green. His shot set up a comfortable par to put the finishing touch on a round that included five birdies, capped by a 15-foot putt on No. 17 after a long chip to the 542-yard, par-5 hole.

Trevino professes to being a warm-weather player, but admitted "I can play in cold weather better on links (seaside) course than on American courses. You don't have to play the air ball. . . . Here I can manipulate a three or four-iron and run the ball on the green."

Once on the green, Trevino proved today he can ram it home. His other birdies cam on an 18-footer at No. 3, a 20-footer on No. 5 a two-footer on the ninth and a three-footer on the 12th.

Trevino suggested the course played harder for those who were out on it when the rains struck, rather than those, like himself, who started in the rain. "The fellows who teed it up in good weather had the golf course change on them," he explained.

If the weather continues to be as bad, Trevino, who won at Muirfield in 1972, likes Watson's chance of victory. "I like to go with flatbellies and he (Watson) is one of them," he said. "A flatbelly is one who doesn't have this damn big thing I'm carrying," he added, pointing to his paunch.

The day started comfortably enough: cool, but windless and dry until near noon. Then the rain started, becoming quite heavy at times, made most uncomfortable by the gusty winds driving off the nearby Firth or Forth and the dipping temperatures, measured in the 40s.

None of this appeared to bother the unflappable Watson, who already has five victories on the American tour this season. Although he admits preference to "85-degree, shirtsleeve weather," Watson said his game does not suffer, "as long as I keep my hands warm."

Watson nullified a bogey-5 on the 471-yard sixth, "the hardest hole today," he said, by eating up the short, par-5 ninth, as most of the leaders, did today, coming up to the fringe in two shots on the 495-yarder and two-putting for a birdie.

A three-putt performance from the edge of the 188-yard 16th hole cost him a bogey, but a wedge shot to within eight feet on No. 11 and a sand wedge approach to the well-bunkered 17th hole 15 feet from the hole set up birdies.

"My driving and approach putting were the keys," Watson said, pointing out that he needed only two saving putts of six and four feet to preserve pars. "It's great to play a great round at a course I love.

Another golfer who has professed love for the Muirfield links, located between the towns of Gullane and North Berwick southeast of Edinburgh, is Nicklaus.

His love affair may hae been sorely tested today. "I was sopping wet when I got in," he said after changing into warm and dry clothing. "It was one of those rounds that I never got much going. I had only one good thing happen: my putt at the last hole," he said of a 25-footer to save par for a two-over 739

He went to the 11th hole before an approach putt reached the cup. Managing birdies on the par-5. thanks to mammoth second shots on Nos. 5 and 9 that put him on the fringe each time, Nicklaus, who collected one of his three British Open victories on this course in 1966, said, "The greens are relatively slow. I have an awfully hard time when I get on slow greens." a

Nicklaus was asked if the nasty conditions could help produce a British winner. "Very close to a British win-for the home side since Max Faulkter, yes," he quipped.

If there is to be a British winner, and only Tony Jacklin in 1969 has won ner's victory in 1951, it could prove to be Faldo.

He will turn 23 Friday and already has won his nation's PGA championship twice, including this year. He is a splendid putter and sank 12 and 18-footers for birdies on 17 and 18 while he was "just trying to finish 4-4 for a good finish."