When a 30-foot putt dropped into the cup at the 18th hole for his third straight birdie, Deane Beman threw a punch meant for the wind and other elements of golf that howled at his comeback. He had come to the British Open with a lot to prove -- and had gone about accomplishing a good deal of it.

Now, a 75 might not seem too thrilling to anyone either unacquainted with golf or several thousand miles from the eighth tee of the Ailsa Course shortly after breakfast Thursday. That was where Beman was rocked so hard by a 40-mph gust that he had to step back and reload.

Measured against par of 70, what Beman did in round one seems tepid as tap water; measured against the devilish wind and his 12-year absence from even mildly serious competition, that 75 was stunning.

Think not?

The 48-year-old flat on his back about three months ago shot the same first-round score as the winner of last week's pro tour stop, Fuzzy Zoeller, leaving them five back of leader Ian Woosnam.

Raymond Floyd, the winner of the U.S. Open tournament that Beman wasn't in shape to qualify for, blew to 78. So did Masters champ Jack Nicklaus. Bob Tway and Greg Norman could only muster 74s. Curtis Strange barely broke 80; Craig Stadler didn't.

Mac O'Grady can't beat Beman anywhere, it seems. He recently lost the final appeal of the fine and suspension Beman levied a while back; here, he shot one stroke higher than his PGA Tour boss.

"Just a little man trying to be a big man," another Beman antagonist, Seve Ballesteros, said at the Masters.

How'd it go yesterday for Seve? Seventy-six.

He smiled and lowered his head in embarrassment when reminded Beman had bested him by a stroke.

"Good for him; he wins off the course and on," Ballesteros admitted. "Nice."

So how did Beman pull this off? How did the little man who carries a bit of a paunch but no 1-iron shrink some of the giants to his level -- this once?

The skeptical attitude is that Beman gave the wind a two-year exemption to five U.S. tournaments if it would give him relatively safe passage around Ailsa this week.

That won't wash with those familiar with the native Washingtonian. They know that throughout his distinguished career as an amateur and six-year touring pro, the only time he left the fairway was to cut a business deal.

Same thing Thursday.

He was paired with a couple of young flat-bellies who practically orbited their tee balls. On reentry, however, the balls sometimes were buried in knee-high rough that also could hide a sheep on the lam.

Beman was patient with the laddies, walking over to join the search and then giving his own ball, smack in the middle of the short grass, a good smack. On his idea of a wild shot, Beman still could make solid contact with a 4-wood. "I just wanted to survive," he said. "Probably, with the crosswinds, the conditions through the sixth hole were as difficult as they can be. Some holes five, to be exact I couldn't get home in regulation ."

Once he couldn't get a driver to a par 3.

"I putted absolutely as bad as you can putt through 14 holes," he said, knowing he missed three putts by a total of 11 feet. The irony of his having to listen to such pouting week after week from others failed to draw a smile.

From absolutely terrible, Beman turned absolutely brilliant at the 15th hole, saving par from the sand with a 13-footer. The birdie at 16 was from 15 feet and he wedged stiff at 17 for his second birdie.

"Golf in America is played in the air; golf over here is played on the ground," he said. "Sometimes here you don't get it on the ground soon enough." On 18, he bumped a 3-iron onto the green to set up the birdie that set up his first extended emotion of the round. Finally, he could relax.

In truth, nothing much breaks his concentration at what became nearly a full-time job the last month or so. Martians suddenly in love with the 115th British Open would have to hop on Beman's pitching wedge to get his attention. That total commitment to an entire round was as hard as anything to recapture.

"It's easy for one shot," he said. "But 4 1/2 hours requires a lot of discipline and training. My mind wandered during the Irish Open in which he made the cut and was a little bit better last week in which he did not .

"Sunday and Monday during qualifying I thought my way around well, kept the right things in focus."

His focus on serious golf caused Beman to hit "15,000 to 20,000 practice balls for 45 days" at the beginning of the year. That contributed to back problems that had him almost totally inactive for a week and severely limited for another three.

His final practice round here was with Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. At one point, a starry-eyed fan motioned toward Beman and said: "Who's the old man?"

Beman's daughter Valerie overheard the remark.

"He's not so old," she snapped.

In two years, Beman will be old enough to join the senior tour he helped enhance. A fairly close associate said he expects Beman to do exactly that, to resign as commissioner and join the seniors "because he knows he can beat most of 'em now."

Doesn't everybody retire to golf?

Beman says he has no such intentions.

There is little flashy either about Beman or his game. His playing partners were outfitted in the latest rain garb; the commish slipped a tour-issue jacket over his tan sweater.

David Jones often wore heavily lined gloves between shots; Beman fashioned a makeshift muff with a bathroom towel to warm his hands.

"I hadn't walked more than one round of golf in 10 or 11 years," he said. "Hadn't played more than a dozen to 20 rounds a year in eight or nine years. Two years ago, I decided I didn't want my game to deteriorate anymore.

"First came the practice tee. Then you want to display your game to friends and who you want to brag to. Tournament level is next. I'm close now to the level that pleases me."

That was Open opening day. Nobody knows about the next swing in golf, let alone the next 18 holes. Figuratively speaking, Beman could shoot 100 in the second round. Or 50.

All anyone knew by Thursday's end, Nicklaus and Ballesteros and so on, was this: Ailsa's fairways ought to be called Beman's Patios, and they're the only place to be sitting.