In one breath this week, people have rhapsodized about how the last British Open here, in 1977, was the greatest show in major tournament golf. In the next breath, they have insisted that nothing of the kind would happen again.

It won't.

A conspiracy of rain and wind, not to mention uninspired play by some usually brilliant strikers, has everybody over par on the Ailsa course. And Greg Norman needs to maintain his advantage over three obscure players to win his first major.

With a 4-over-par 74 today, the Australian sloshed to 1-over 211 after three rounds and had his lead, which was two strokes at the beginning of the day, cut to one.

It's a familiar situation in a different setting for Norman, who also led the Masters and U.S. Open this year by a stroke going into the final round.

Tommy Nakajima shot 71 today and was in second place at 212. Ian Woosnam matched par and was tied with Gordon J. Brand (who gusted to 75) at 214.

Those are the players Norman judges as having the best chances of catching him. The gang at 7 and 8 over, which includes the man who flew by Norman at the U.S. Open -- Ray Floyd at 218 -- is too far back.

"If conditions are the same, it's hard to make a move, to shoot the 67 or so you'd need," Norman said. "It's sometimes a little easier to hang on in foul weather."

That means that Floyd, on this try, is not likely to become the fifth man to win the U.S. and British opens, the Masters and the PGA in a career.

Floyd agreed, saying: "I'm out of the championship."

Gary Koch is the closest U.S. golfer, at 217. In the 1977 Open that Tom Watson won, 11 of the first 12 players were from the United States.

Norman began the day as though he might lap the field, making birdies at the first and fifth holes and charging to a five-shot lead.

Then he bunkered a tee shot at the par-3 sixth, scraped the ball onto the fringe and three-putted for a double bogey. He recovered the five-shot advantage with birdies on two of the next three holes.

Then the elements slammed their spikes into Norman. There would be no lights-out shotmaking this round, nothing like the 65-65 Watson and Jack Nicklaus produced during the third round in 1977.

With the wind in his face and rain in his eyes, Norman bogeyed the final hole on the front nine and five more on the back. Something similar occurred to the rest of the late starters, except for the 5-foot-4 Woosnam.

He was not blown into the Firth of Clyde after all. Neither did he drown in casual water. A 34-36 fashioned on long drives and some nice recoveries kept him in the chase.

"You just want to get into the clubhouse without hurting yourself," Norman said. "You couldn't see out there sometimes. The rain was coming horizontal.

"You'd look up, to get the line, and the rain would hit you in the eyes and sting. I'd line the club up with one hand. By the time I got the other one ready, everything was wet.

"The club slipped in my hands twice, and I pulled the trigger before I was ready several times on the back nine . One of those blockouts was on 18."

Those watching on television may have wondered why Norman would fire at the green with a driver from so far off the fairway. They seemed justified when the shot plopped into the rough 100 yards short of the flag.

Norman said he was not displeased, that if he had to mis-hit the shot, he wanted it to stay out of even worse trouble.

"I wanted to keep the ball below the wind," he said. "You can't get it on the ground too soon here. If I hit a 3-wood, the ball might have ended up in the bleachers. Or the tented village. Or the pro shop."

Norman said he "got a little short" for the only time all day just before that second shot, because he thought the crowd should have been moved out of his line of sight before he arrived at the ball.

Otherwise, he said, "I was not uncomfortable with myself or the conditions. I think I played very well. I'm very positive."

His only frustrations were "very makable" putts that failed to drop on 10, 12 and 16.

Through a translator, Nakajima said he was "very excited" during his round and at the possibility of winning.

He scrambled quite well and was 1 under for the day until he missed a short putt for par at the 440-yard 14th. Two holes later, he dumped his approach in water and made double-bogey 6.

A 3-wood third shot on the par-5 No. 17 set up a birdie. He went rough-rough with his first shots at the final hole, then curled a wedge shot off a hill on the green and sank a four-footer for par.

He won six tournaments last year, all in Japan. Some of his victories internationally, he said, "have come in countries smaller than cities." Brand and Woosnam will have the home-crowd advantage, they being the last British hopes after Nick Faldo's 76 put him at 7 over.

The two major overnight questions were how Norman would do against the elements -- and himself. The weather for Sunday was forecast as "becoming brighter but cool . . . more dry than wet."

Norman's outlook was for a change in the blahs that struck him before the final round of the U.S. Open.

What does it mean to have led all three majors before the final round and seen two slip away?

"That I've been playing well."

And his chances this time?

"Very good."