It was a dark and stormy night. And that was at noon.

They didn't play the first round of the U.S. Open in threesomes today. Those were expedition parties that ventured onto Shinnecock Hills in chilly slanting rain and high gusting winds under low, angry, oatmeal skies.

Some never returned -- a scorecard, at any rate. Only one man, Bob Tway, could equal par of 70, and only one other, Greg Norman, could get within a stroke of him. A legion of sufferers, an amazing 42 in all, were 10 or more strokes over par when play was suspended with a few groups still on the course.

Typical of the day was Jerry Pate, a former Open champion, who bellied up and quit at the fifth tee after hitting the double-bogey, quadruple-bogey exacta.

On one of the cruelest, highest scoring days in the history of modern pro golf, the field averaged 78.0. After his 85, Jack Renner withdrew, simply citing as his cause "scorecard." The booby prize, edging out Lee Chill, went to one John Daly: 88.

"Those who turn in a 36-hole score will make the cut," said Rafael Alarcon. "The rest are insane." So what if it doesn't quite make sense; the man just finished with a quintuple-bogey nine.

For those who think golf horror is humor, laugh yourself sick looking at golf's reigning champions: Jack Nicklaus (Masters) 77, Andy North (U.S. Open) 79, Sandy Lyle (British Open) 80 and Hubert Green (PGA), whose 75 actually puts him in the hunt.

Break par. Are you kidding? Tway, who won the Westchester Classic four days ago, probably will go to his grave wondering how he matched par. Ten one-putts, six of them to salvage par, sure helped. "That might be equivalent to 65," he said. "I don't know if I've ever played a course this tough in conditions this bad. What a miserable day." As he spoke, a steady rain turned to a lunch-hour torrent, stopping play 14 minutes. "I didn't think it could get much worse, but it looks like it is . . . This course is tough when it's calm and 80 degrees."

When Norman, who won his last event at the Kemper Open, was asked how many of 100 players still left on the course might break par, he laughed and said, "Not a one. If anyone gets in the red figures today, I'll be very, very surprised."

Only one man on Long Island claimed to be in heaven. "This is my favorite weather," said Tom Watson, tied at 72 with Denis Watson, Kenny Knox, David Frost, Tommy Nakajima and Rick Fehr. "Just like Kansas City in wintertime. Maybe a little warmer.

"Honest, it's not too bad out there. I love this weather," continued Watson, who plays in freezing temperatures in his hometown in the offseason just so he can thrive in such conditions. Think it's an accident he's won five British Opens? He thinks he's home now.

The Open hasn't been played on this remote rustic site since 1895, and if you ask most of the field of 156 they'll tell you 91 more years would be a sensible wait for the next visit.

But ask the greats and they say days like this are the best tests their sport has to offer -- the times when a tough game becomes a totally challenging sport. The hardy souls love it.

"You'd probably look at my round and think I played terrible," said Norman, who missed 10 greens, had to save par with one-putts eight times and still made three bogeys, "but I hit the ball well . . . It's that tough . . .

"This reminds me of what the British Open is supposed to be like, but never has been in my time," added Norman. "Since '77, we've only had one or two days like this in Britain. The Royal and Ancient has been hoping for these weather conditions for 10 years."

It doesn't get much more morbid than this. First off, Shinnecock Hills is a full load on a beach day from the members tees. Let the USGA grow rough to the ankles, mow the greens to the roots and create six new tees for extra length (6,912 yards) and you've got fear and trembling among the cleated set. Add a steady 20 mph wind with gusts to 35, plus temperatures in the 50s and every variety of rain from mist to downpour.

"I survived; I finished," said Denis Watson. "This ranks with the worst of them all. I've never seen a day like this in America."

Just to perfect the misery, the wind blew from the south or southwest in every practice round. Today, it turned around 180 degrees. "None of us have ever played the course under this condition," said Norman. And, according to Tom Watson, some of the tees were pushed back, anticipating southerly breezes.

The result: three par-4 holes in particular, the 447-yard ninth, 444-yard 14th and 450-yard 18th, suddenly became bona fide par-5s. Nos. 9 and 18 played uphill into the teeth of the wind while any tee shot coming out the chute at the 14th was, in Tom Watson's words, "blown at least 50 yards off line sideways. That really makes you do a lot of thinking. That's the fun of the game."

Or, as the Scots say, you need at least a 20-mph wind on a links so you "have something to lean against."

"I'm a mudder," said Tway. "Those par putts turn into birdie putts today." Or, as Knox said, "It was pretty brutal. But I like it when it's as tough as they can get it." This year on Saturday in the Honda Classic, in a gale, the stroke average was 79.2 -- the highest ever on the Tour. Knox won.

This was a day that examined the very bottom of the well of athletic will. Some passed. Some didn't.

For instance, Tom Watson's wheels were wobbling at 3 over par as he stood deep in a sand trap at the 11th hole. Disaster ahead? He holed the blast for a birdie 2 and saved his round. "It looked like 30 feet up and 60 feet to the hole. Really, the trap was probably 15 feet deep. See it go in the hole?" he asked. "I couldn't even see the top of the flag."

Seve Ballesteros started bogey-par-bogey. Still, he battled to a 75.

Nicklaus went the opposite way. Tied for the lead after eight straight pars, several on saves, including one 50-foot putt, he bogeyed nine, then made a double bogey that unhinged his round. For the first time since 1959 in the British Amateur, he lost a ball in a major tournament. How can 5,000 people not see one ball?

More double bogeys followed at the 13th and 18th holes, where he missed putts of three and four feet.

"This was the most difficult day I have ever seen in American championship golf," he said. "I only hit four greens in regulation , had 26 putts, shot 77, and if I'd made that last little putt at 18 I'd have been happy with my 76 . . . Let's forget it and go on."

He was told that Tom Watson had predicted that the winning score would be between 286 and 290, "if conditions stay the same."

"If conditions stay the same," said Nicklaus with asperity, "you won't be able to smell 290."