The people who run the Merion Golf Club take pride in telling people that, even though three U.S. Opens have been played here, no one has ever broken par, 280, for four rounds.

The members of the golfing fraternity gathered here for Merion's fourth Open say that will change this week. But, with each passing day, they are saying it more quietly.

Tuesday, a parade of players looked at the short 6,544-yard track, the rough -- not that deep for an Open course -- and the soft, rain-wet greens and predicted devastation for poor Merion. Johnny Miller went so far as to say he wouldn't be surprised if someone shot 59 or 60.

Today, Miller had backed off. "Maybe 64," he said.

Slowly, Merion is turning tiger. The greens are baking out in the sun, the rough is growing. But still, with rain predicted for tonight, some players were talking about 270 as a winning score.

"It all depends on the weather," Lee Trevino said. "Right now, Merion's got its guard down because the greens are so soft. But if they dry out, it'll change in a hurry."

Tom Watson, hearing Miller's Tuesday prediction, wanted to know where Miller was. "I'd like to get a bet down on that one," he said.

Ben Crenshaw shot 65 in practice today, including a hole in one at the 186-yard third hole, where he used a five-iron.Greg Powers also had an ace, using a nine-iron at the tiny 129-yard 13th. Watson deuced the par-4 10th on Tuesday when he drove the green on the 312-yard hole. . .

John Brodie, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, qualified for the tournament and said making the cut would be a thrill that would rank up with his top football achievements. . .

Tommy Valentine, the young pro who lost a stirring playoff to Watson in the Atlantic Classic two weeks ago, had to get up at 6:30 a.m. the next day to play 36 holes of qualifying for the Open. He shot 70-67 and earned a spot in the field. . . Arnold Palmer, 51, and Gary Player, 46, both needed special exemption to get here. Palmer will be playing in his 29th consecutive Open. . . The USGA limited the sale of tickets to 17,000 because Merion is not laid out well for spectators. The tournament is sold out. . .

There is one apparent exception to the nonlocker room-clubhouse rule barring caddies. Jack Nicklaus Jr., caddying for his father, breezed unchallenged into the locker room Tuesday.