Let's see, there was the Zambian Open in 1974, of course. And the Irish Open in 1975. You remember them, don't you? Biggies.

Since then, he hasn't won many tournaments without a playing partner.

In fact, he hasn't won any.

But if this rain keeps up and washes the Royal St. George's Golf Club into the English Channel, the leader in the lifeboats will be Christy O'Connor Jr., an underachieving 36-year-old Irishman who, in one unconscious stretch Thursday, stitched seven straight birdies together like fine white lace, then walked off 18 with a course record 64 and a four-shot lead in the British Open.

And, as so often happens when you go 51 years between course records, the man who set it was there to see the man who broke it. Henry Cotton, who shot 65 here in the second round of the 1934 British Open -- the first of three Opens that he won -- sat quietly in the back of the interview room as O'Connor reviewed his round. Finally, the 78-year-old Cotton stood up, smiled with a dryness that would shame a good martini, and politely inquired of O'Connor:

"Did you play all 18?"

In all 114 British Opens, the only man other than O'Connor to shoot 64 in an opening round was Craig Stadler. So obviously it's a shock when anyone does it. But it shouldn't be a surprise that a relative unknown such as O'Connor should jump up early and bite this tournament. Golfers like John Morgan in 1974, David Huish in 1975 and Bill Longmuir in 1979 have done it, too, only to sink back suddenly into the oblivion whence they came. The real shock would come Sunday evening, if O'Connor's name still were so high up on the leader board it seemed to be written in helium.

Twenty-five years ago, though, it would not have been nearly as shocking if Christy O'Connor had shot a 64 here. That would have been Christy O'Connor Sr., the grandest name in Irish golfing history. That O'Connor was so highly regarded by his countrymen that he was given the nickname "Himself" to connote the one and only. That O'Connor also was said to be rather a hell-raiser. One story has him challenging a fellow player to a drinking contest during a tournament in Edinburgh and the contest ending in a tie -- with both men passed out in the street.

That O'Connor is this O'Connor's uncle.

This O'Connor isn't, in fact, a "junior" at all; he merely was called Christy O'Connor Jr. to distinguish him from his uncle in those years when both played the European tour.

This O'Connor is a happy sort, a gray-haired, gray-eyed, bucket-bellied man who came into the interview room with a cigarette in one hand and a tall glass of beer in the other. But if he adopted some of the uncle's zest for good times, he didn't get papers on the whole package.

That O'Connor, according to this O'Connor, "was a very brave player. I always thought he had nerves of steel." This O'Connor remembers full well what that O'Connor said about being tough enough to be a good golfer. "My uncle told me you'll be good at this game if the softest part of your game is your teeth."

This O'Connor, however, isn't made of all that hard stuff. Although he said he is very close with his uncle -- just last week his uncle called to tell him he could win the British Open if he "was brave enough" -- the younger O'Connor has suffered through the obligatory comparisons with the older one. "Everyone thought I was an offspring, and that I should be as good or better, which was impossible," he said without any bitterness. "After awhile, they realized I wasn't as good, and that was just fine for me." O'Connor spoke evenly as he compared his game to his uncle's. "He was a more positive player. I tend to lose my concentration sometimes."

Shrugging his shoulders, O'Connor thought about the whole of his career and freely admitted, "I suppose I could have done better. Without a doubt I should have done better. Living in Ireland and playing the European tour is a lot of traveling. On free days I've tended to go home to be with my family. I suppose I could have practiced a lot more . . . "

He looked up and smiled.

So he didn't work his fingers to the bone. So his stomach wasn't as flat as it should have been. So he wasn't as brave a player as he might have been.

So what?

He had a 64 and a course record.

He'd been as hot as hot gets. When the rain landed on him, it sizzled.

This day was his and his alone.


Christy O'Connor Jr. is a professional golfer. In a sense, he's been one all his life. His uncle was a national hero. His father John was a good player. His three brothers are pros. Galway's first family of golf. "It's what we knew best where we came from."

He went into the family business.

He's been out there for 30 years.

Tomorrow? Tomorrow would take care of itself.

Because he was an Irishman leading the British Open at Royal St. George's, O'Connor naturally was reminded of his fellow Irishman, Harry Bradshaw, and the legend of what befell him here.

In 1949, Bradshaw was leading the tournament when, on the fifth hole of the second round, his tee shot sailed into the rough and came to rest inside a broken beer bottle. Without waiting for a ruling on whether he could get a free drop, Bradshaw addressed the ball, closed his eyes for protection against flying glass, and swung for the seats. The ball went all of 30 yards. Parts of the bottle got closer to the green.

Bradshaw took a 6 on the hole, a 77 on the round. His other three rounds were 68, 68, and 70, but the 77 cost him the lead and ultimately forced him into a playoff with Bobby Locke. Locke beat him by 12 strokes, a worse beating than Bradshaw had given the bottle.

Of course O'Connor knew the story. "That's why," he said, laughing heartily, "I tried to stay out of all the bottles today."