No one won the U.S. Open today, but plenty of men may have lost it.
In a first round full of stiff breezes and limp scores, defending British Open champion Bill Rogers and semi-retired Bruce Devlin scrambled and struggled to the lead today with two-under-par scores of 70 on the cool, gray Pebble Beach Golf Links.
But neither their perseverance nor the creditable 71s turned in by Danny Edwards (who was six under par after 13 holes), Bobby Clampett, Terry Diehl, Calvin Peete and James King was the story of this tragicomic day.
At the U.S. Open, you have to learn to take the bad with the worse. That was the lesson in misery learned by big-name sufferers such as Seve Ballesteros (38-43--81), Arnold Palmer (81), Jerry Pate (79), John Cook (79), Ray Floyd (78), Lee Trevino (78), Johnny Miller (78), Andy Bean (78), Gary Player (78), Hubert Green (78), John Mahaffey (77), Isao Aoki (77), Bruce Lietzke (76), Ben Crenshaw (76), Hale Irwin (76) and Craig Stadler (76).
Just a day ago, all these fellows would have been in any reasonable list of the 30-or-so players, in a field of 153, who had a reasonable chance at this gaudiest prize in golf. Now, the members of this pack--probably more than half of the top contenders--don't have much more of a chance than the seals barking in Carmel Bay. Seldom have so many who are so good done so badly on the same day.
With wind gusting to 36 mph and the wind-chill factor in the 40s, 39 players couldn't break 80; the stroke average of the field was 77.2.
"If you're not totally on your game mentally, that wind will grab you," said defending champ David Graham (73), who knocked two balls out of bounds for the first time in his memory. "I was a perfect example."
The survivors were the happy ones here. "This may be the best start I've had in an Open," said Tom Watson, who joined seven other players, including George Burns, Fuzzy Zoeller and Andy North at even-par 72.
"I felt like I was in that (Holmes-Cooney) fight last week in Vegas. I took a few punches, but I counterpunched pretty well," said Watson, who had five bogeys and five birdies--three of the birdies on 15, 16 and 17.
Also holding their breath, in a traffic jam at 73, were Graham, Tom Kite, Lon Hinkle, Keith Fergus and Lanny Wadkins. At 74, with reason to begin worrying, were Jack Nickluas and Tom Weiskopf. Like many others, the two started well, then came to grief as they played the eighth, ninth and 10th holes beside the ocean wall, then turned for home into a tough quartering wind.
Even leaders Rogers and Devlin were, each in their own way, shocked by their success, and seemed almost apologetic for leading the Open.
"I've been struggling all year," said Rogers, who after winning four events in '81 is 44th on the money list. "It's been a weird thing . . . As soon as I get one part of my game straightened out, another part goes bad."
Devlin, 44, better known as NBC's 18th-hole color commentator than as a player, said, "I haven't won a tournament in 10 years . . . the few times I've played this season, I've been pathetic . . . In practice rounds this week, I was so bad that (friend David) Graham wouldn't even walk on the same side of the fairway with me. Didn't want it to rub off, I guess . . ."
Just when the world's best golfers think they've got their game mastered, they run into high rough, slick greens and a case of the Open jitters. Add to that the sound of the Pacific Ocean pounding and damp sea breezes making the flags salute, and you've got a day full of tragicomedy.
The worst casualty was Edwards, a part-time Formula Ford race car driver. This afternoon, Edwards hit the wall on the back nine at Pebble Beach.
Edwards, six under through 13, led by four shots before a collapse that included:
* Three-putting from four feet, including a miss from one foot at the 14th for double bogey.
* Three-putting the 16th for bogey.
* And, finally, pull-hooking his tee shot at the 17th into the Pacific Ocean on his way to a double bogey.
Edwards started the day birdie-eagle-par-birdie, and except for a missed three-foot putt at the ninth could have shot 30 on the front. His downfall began at the 14th, the same hole he six-putted for a quadruple-bogey 9 at the '77 PGA.
"I've made a whole lot more birdies on that hole than I have six-putts and double bogeys," said Edwards who in the last month has been pole-sitter and winner in two amateur sportscar auto races. "I feel like I had a couple of blowouts there on the back nine. I need to go home and change tires."
Edwards was just the most conspicuous of a vast army of miserable men, led by Bob E. Smith, who shot 91. Pate finished double bogey-double bogey for 79. Crenshaw, who was two under par on the front, triple-bogeyed the 16th as he shot 41 on the back nine. Floyd, coming off a victory at Memphis, came out of the blocks with a front-nine 41. Stadler, a three-time winner this season, came to the 13th tee even par, then went 5-6-6 to go four over.
Nicklaus was one under par through 10 holes. Yet, after surviving the terrifying wind-buffeted oceanside eighth, ninth and 10th, he made bogeys at the easy 11th, par-3 12th and 16th to come in at 74.
"I kept looking for a fast putt all day and kept leaving 'em a foot short," said Nicklaus. "When you shoot 74, I guess you don't have much to say. Isn't anybody going to ask me about my one birdie?"
Among the day's seven under-par fellows, one was, by far, the most unusual: King, who is, at 47 the third-oldest man in the field behind Palmer and Gene Littler (who shot 74). Many players have been accused of choking, but only King has had the charge against him documented.
In '73, he was fined $1,000 and suspended from the tour for a year for "cursing, grabbing and choking an official." Recalling the incident today, the former paratrooper and football player at Western Illinois said, "You might say I straightened his necktie."
In '78, King was booted out of Open qualifying in a sectional when it was determined that he'd played two balls off the same tee--in effect, hit a mulligan. In '81, he got into another shouting match with officials during qualifying in Miami, where he is teaching pro at the Fontainbleau Hotel.
"I'm getting to the stage of my life where I'm worried about my image," said King. "I don't want to have (club) members worrying about whether I'll grab them and throw them against the wall. When you get a reputation, it's hard to shake it."
One reputation went unchanged this day--the U.S. Open's reputation as the meanest event in sports.