Arnold Palmer strode into the Muirfield press tent this morning, driver in hand, and bade a likely farewell to one of the tournaments that has meant most to him throughout his golf career.

"I would say at this point it's doubtful," he said of his return to competition in the tournament that he won in 1961 at Royal Birkdale and in 1962 at Troon. "My game would have to be awfully good, if I come back for the ( British) Open, it will have to be seriously."

Palmer bowed out this year after his 76-74 missed the cut by a stroke in this 109th open.

"The first book I ever read concerning golf was Bobby Jones' book that talked of the Grand Slam," Palmer recalled. "It became my intention at an early age . . . prehigh school . . . to win the Amateur and Open of both countries (the United States and Great Britain).

"I won the U.S. Amateur in 1954 but never did play in the British Amateur. I came over for the Walker Cup but then turned professional. That solidified my intention of coming over and playing the British Open and winning it some day."

His first attempt was in 1960 and it was a special event for him. "My father came along. "It was his first time out of the U.S." Kel Nagle won that year at St. Andrews with an eagle at the par-4 17th as Palmer got his 4.

It was a disappointment, Palmer said, because he had won the Masters and U.s. Open already that year. "I was going well and then it got rained out (the second round of the final day of the then-36-hole wrapup)." Palmer still feels he could have won had they played in the rain.

Palmer, now 50, won the next year at Royal Birkdale and a plaque there commemorates one of the greatest shots in his storied career.

It was getting hot (with Welshman Dai Rees pushing him). "I hit my tee shot (on No. 15) less than a foot off the fairway but it was in the deep grass (three feet) and all the way to the bottom. Sheer strength pulled it off.

Palmer hit a six-iron. "The ball came out, took one hop and went 15 feet past the hole." Palmer missed the birdie putt but preserved his winning edge.

"I don't know that I will ever stop playing golf," Palmer said. "I will probably play as much golf socially as I ever have . . . and probably enjoy it more. I will participate in some senior tournaments. At some time I will play in a few tournaments."

The man who never has won the American PGA Championship has no regrets. "Oh, I'd like to have won more tournaments. That's like shooting a 65 and saying you'd like to have made more putts.

"But if I had it to do over again I would like to do it the same way."

Need to cash a check or exchange foreign currency? Need to post a letter? It's raining and you'd like to get a rain jacket? No need to go the 20 miles up the road to Edinburgh or next door to Gullane or down the road five miles to the picturesque little town of North Berwick.

It's all here at the Tented Village.

Four banks have temporary quarters here, there are cafeterias, bars, airline ticket booths, a medical headquarters, public telephones and plenty of places to spend your money. An exhibition tent is full of goodies for sale. Golf equipment, clothing for the links and more formal affairs, resort property, grass mowers. Another tent offers equipment, clothing and souvenirs hawked by local golfs professionals.

In all, the Tented Village encompasses an area larger than the adjoining first fairway.

The Tented Village concept started here at the British Open, although some of the ideas were borrowed for this year's U.S. Open.

Palmer recalls seeing the Tented Village for the first time at Royal Birkdale in 1961. "There were hurricane winds -- 60 knots -- and I remember seeing beer cases flying through the air."

Palmer is in favor of making things easy and entertaining for the fans, but worries about some of the side attractions. "I hope it (the British Open) doesn't lose some of the things I thought were great as a youngster," he said "The tradition, the great courses. . . .

"Let's not let the sideshow overshadow the golf."