First there was wind, rolling in off Sandwich Bay. Then there was rain, driving rain. Later there was more rain mixed with more wind. For the first time in four years, the British Open had British Open weather.

The links of Royal St. George's are treacherous under the best of conditions. Today, they became a hall of horrors for some of the world's best golfers.

But the first-round leader, Christy O'Connor Jr., had an extraordinary day. He missed a three-foot putt at the first hole, made four pars all day, strung together seven birdies and finished with a course record six-under-par 64 and a four-shot lead.

His day, even with 10 birdies, was dull compared to the adventures of those lagging in his wake.

Amateur Richard Latham shot 35-49. Peter Jacobsen shot 31-40, thanks in large measure to a 9 on the par-5 14th hole. Severiano Ballesteros, the defending champion, started with birdie, then bogeyed five of six holes and ended at 75, one shot behind his brother Manuel -- who caddied for him at the Masters this year.

Craig Stadler made a 7 at the 14th and came in growling after a 76. Lee Trevino was growling before he finished -- at his caddie for what he deemed bad clubbing -- and straggled in at 73. Tom Watson, five times the champion here, started with double bogey and was happy to limp home with a 72.

Masters champion Bernhard Langer got to one under par with a birdie at that treacherous 14th, then left a shot in a bunker en route to a triple-bogey 7 at 15. He finally got to the clubhouse with a 72.

But the most forlorn player here might have been Jack Nicklaus. Four years ago, he shot 83 during the first round on this course. Today, playing half the round in the rain, he shot 77.

As he came off the 18th green, Nicklaus clearly was disgusted. "I'm improving," he said, thinking back to the 83. "Maybe by the time we play here again, I'll be in contention . . . I just hate to play in the rain. I hate it. It's not an excuse, but as soon as the rain started I went double bogey, bogey on eight and nine.

"Maybe before the week is over I'll make another birdie," he said. "I made one the first nine holes I played Monday and haven't had one since." With that, he walked into the cool evening to ponder the possibility of missing the cut in a second straight major tournament, something that never has happened to him.

By the time the weather and the heather and the hay of Royal St. George's had finished doing their work today, the leader board would have made an excellent Trivial Pursuit question.

The man in front, O'Connor, last won a tournament in 1975. Today, though, he was superb, rolling in birdie putts ranging from two feet to 20 feet on Nos. 4 through 10 before turning human with bogeys at 13 and 15.

"Whatever it was I was doing, I didn't want it to ever end," he said. "I played as well today as I can play."

O'Connor's brilliance put him four shots in front of Robert Lee, a young Englishman, not a Confederate general; Tony Johnstone, undoubtedly the most famous golfer to come out of Zimbabwe; Sandy Lyle, an Englishman who appears on the leader board here early, and Philip Parkin, a 23-year-old Englishman who told a friend before the round that he expected to shoot 85 and proceeded to make five birdies in the first 13 holes before shooting 68.

"I looked up when I got to five under and said, 'What are you doing here, you aren't playing here?' " Parkin said. "That's when my swing started to fade."

The only players known outside their home town who finished under par were former U.S. Open and PGA champion David Graham, who is in the group at 68; Fuzzy Zoeller, who was three under par until he had to play the last five holes in a driving rain and finished at 69, and D.A. Weibring, who also had 69. At 70 were Larry Nelson, Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart, Mark O'Meara and 1963 champion Bob Charles.

Most of the low scores came early when the wind and the rain were light. Players with late tee times, such as Ballesteros, Nicklaus, Langer and Gary Player (72) had a tough time. Ben Crenshaw also played late and shot 73, but given his poor play in recent months that was not a discouraging score.

The only late starter who seemed unbothered by the weather was Pavin, who didn't make a bogey until the 18th. But he played so late that by the time he reached the back nine, there was a rainbow glistening over Sandwich Bay.

The best example of what can happen on a British Open course in British Open weather was Jacobsen. Starting early, he acted as if he intended to put up a very low number for the rest of the field to shoot at, birdieing four of the first seven holes. Then he saved par at the ninth with a 20-foot putt after yanking his drive way left.

"Right then, I felt like I was going to shoot about 64 or 65," Jacobsen said. "I just had very good feel out there. I was rolling."

Jacobsen rolled onto the 14th tee, still three under after his first bogey at 13. Again, he pulled his drive left, wary of the out-of-bounds stakes to the right. The ball bounced into the heavy, knee-high rough and disappeared.

Never to be seen again. "I saw it bounce twice," Jacobsen said. "It was only five or six steps from the fairway. But we just couldn't find it." At one point during the search, helpful fans came through the ropes to try to find the ball. No luck.

Muttering, Jacobsen walked back to the tee to hit again. This time he hit the ball right, not very far right, but just enough to land a couple of feet outside the white out-of-bounds stakes, brought in this year to make the hole a little tougher. "It sure makes it a tough driving hole," he sighed later.

After his third drive, Jacobsen made a routine 5 -- which was 9 with the penalty shots. "I didn't expect to hit my third drive on that hole until Saturday afternoon and I ended up hitting it Thursday morning," he said.

"Oh well, that's golf. I'm glad I didn't fall apart after that (he holed 20-foot par putts at 17 and 18) and I'm still in contention. The way I look at it, in this game, 90 percent of the guys out here are glad when you make a 9, the other 10 percent wish you had made 10. You just have to go to the next hole and keep trying."

That might be the key for anyone who is going to be successful here. Little mistakes can result in big problems. During his bogey binge, Ballesteros didn't hit terrible shots -- just shots bad enough to make bogey.

Afterwards, he said a long wait to get a ruling on the fourth hole disrupted his rhythm. "It's not an excuse, but it threw me off," he said. "I had to wait 25 minutes for the referee. They gave me the drop and I made a nice bogey."

Tournament officials said Ballesteros waited only five minutes for the ruling. But for the most part, he was remarkably sanguine about his round.

"It's just one day," he said. "I shot 75 in the first round in 1979 and was 10 shots behind and won the tournament. I could make a few putts tomorrow and shoot 65. Today, I couldn't putt . . . It was a bad day, but I'll be back."

O'Connor seemed to harbor no illusions about running away with the tournament. Parkin called his own round "a fluke."

The players to watch come the weekend likely will be Graham and Zoeller and some of those lurking near par: Nelson, Pavin, Jacobsen, Watson, Langer, Denis Watson (72), Andy Bean (72) and even Ballesteros, who said for them all, "There's still a long way to go."