The U.S. Open golf championship will begin Thursday on the historic Shinnecock Hills course, a layout that looks as if it has been lifted from a Scottish coastline.

"I've never seen any course in America like it," said Bernhard Langer, who won the U.S. Masters championship in 1985. "Everybody who sees it says it looks like a British Open course, and they're right."

"We're not playing through rows of condominiums and large homes," PGA Tour veteran Lanny Wadkins said. "You're just out here to play golf, and that's the way it should be."

Bob Eaks of Colorado Springs was scheduled to hit the first ball of the tournament at 7 a.m. Thursday, with the 52nd and final threesome leaving the first tee almost nine hours later.

The U.S. Golf Association, taking heed of a weather forecast that calls for showers and stout winds out of the east, will move up the tees Thursday on some of the long par-4s, including the 471-yard No. 6 hole.

But that might not be enough to appease some of the players who had shots blown around -- and away -- during today's practice round.

On the sixth hole, with a southwest wind in his face, Ray Floyd hit a perfect drive down the middle that carried 229 yards, stopping two feet short of the fairway in the short rough. He had no chance to go for the green.

"It's hell when you hit your best drive and can't reach the fairway," Floyd said.

"I think the winning score is going to be over par," Tom Watson said. "The rough is extremely penalizing. I don't think any shot from the green rough bordering the fairway will hit the green. The rough at British Open courses is much more playable than here."

The toughest shot might be a chip from behind the left side of the 11th green, which slopes drastically from back to front. "It's impossible," said Seve Ballesteros.

Shinnecock hosted its only other U.S. Open 90 years ago. That tournament was won by Scotsman James Foulis, who shot 152 for 36 holes and won $150.

The course, located 100 miles from New York City, was the site of the 1967 U.S. Senior Amateur and the 1977 Walker Cup tournament.

In addition to providing a link with the past, this year's Open has become part of the latest chapter of the Jack Nicklaus saga.

Nicklaus, 46, won the Masters for the sixth time two months ago -- his first major title in six years. And although he admits his chances of winning the Grand Slam -- Masters, U.S. Open, PGA and British Open -- are remote, he will give it his best shot.

"It's not a likely thing to have happen," said Nicklaus, who will begin play Thursday at 1:31 p.m. with Larry Nelson and John Mahaffey. "But you have to give yourself every chance you can. I'd kick myself if I did otherwise.

"The Open was probably not my No. 1 priority before I won the Masters. Now it is."

One of the favorites this year is Norman, the tour's leading money winner with $447,109. Spain's Ballesteros and Scotland's Sandy Lyle also will be closely watched because of their experience on courses such as Shinnecock.

Watson has shown signs of coming out of his slump and there are a number of other veteran players who are given good chances to win -- Wadkins, Calvin Peete, Tom Kite, Craig Stadler, Payne Stewart, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton, Fuzzy Zoeller, Andy Bean and last week's Westchester Classic winner, Bob Tway, among them.

Complimenting the USGA on its choice of Shinnecock, Watson recalled a remark former USGA president Sandy Tatum once made about the difficulty of Open courses. "Sandy said, 'We're not trying to embarrass the players; we're trying to identify them,' " Watson said. "That's what they're doing here."