SAN FRANCISCO, JUNE 18 -- For golf historian Ben Crenshaw, the U.S. Open figures to be his toughest major to win. If recent history means anything, he has a fine shot at this 87th affair.

Having stumbled out of the blocks each of his last three Opens, Crenshaw shot a three-under-par 67 today for the early first-round lead.

That gave him a one-shot advantage over Seve Ballesteros and Tommy Nakajima, with about half the field still struggling with the tight Olympic Club fairways and slick greens.

Such a course usually frustrates Crenshaw, whose least-reliable club is the driver. It did the last three Opens, his first-round scores being 80, 78 and 76.

Last year, Crenshaw followed that 76 with three 69s and tied for sixth. He is not daring to think of anything so grand this year. Not publicly at least.

"It's almost like you can't prepare yourself for enough patience," he said of the par-70 layout. "There is a relentless succession of {par} 4s . . . I'm tickled to death."

By his estimate, Crenshaw has frittered away a half-dozen majors. Mostly, he says, because his temper has gotten out of control.

"I'm trying to approach it with a more common-sense nature," he said. "If I keep the ball in play {the next three rounds}, I'll do better. It's that simple."

Crenshaw's round was not so simple as it seemed. He saved par three times and sank 60- and 35-foot putts for two of his five birdies. His only hole over par was the 14th, which he double-bogeyed.

One of the pretournament favorites, Corey Pavin, withdrew after going seven over through seven holes. The reason: a lower-back muscle he may have hurt recently during Open preparation.

"It started to bother me last night," said Pavin, who has won two tournaments this season. "On the practice tee this morning, I chunked about 20 shots in a row, because I couldn't get through the ball.

"I could have played and shot 95, but I couldn't see putting Andy {Bean} and Jumbo {Ozaki} through that."

Former U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller, who made a smashing debut here as a young amateur in 1966, was two under standing on the 17th tee today. Then he plummeted, making double bogey, bogey.

What would a recent major be without Larry Mize doing something miraculous near the final hole? Today's chip at the 18th hole was nearly the equal of the holed 100-footer that beat Greg Norman for the Masters title.

In lush hay way left of the hole, with the green sloping severely away from him, Mize stroked a pitch that hit about 20 feet from the pin, curled drastically right and came to rest within tapin distance for a par 4.

"I was looking at 6 or 7," admitted Mize, who ended with a one-over 71.

Of the often-erratic Crenshaw and Ballesteros, the former was less wild off the tee. Ballesteros missed the fairway on four of the first five holes, yet remained even par. That was because of his nerves and touch around the green.

Ballesteros saved par from a bunker 60 yards from the pin at the first hole and holed par putts of four and 15 feet later. He made two 20-footers and a 10-footer for birds on a stretch of four holes on the back, and was alone on the early leader board standing on the 14th tee.

This was where Crenshaw had met his biggest trouble a few groups ahead. The gallery had shouted in awe as his tee ball bore low and long toward the left side of the fairway. Crenshaw was getting angry, knowing a drastic kick left was about to take place.

Sure enough, his ball bounded off the fairway and into thick rough. It was a holding cell, if not quite golfing jail, for a gouged 7-iron shot ended in a greenside bunker on the 417-yard hole.

Off an awkward stance, his right foot higher than the ball, Crenshaw popped the ball only to the fringe, perhaps 25 feet from the cup. His chip ended five feet above the hole, and he missed for bogey.

That swing of three shots -- a Ballesteros birdie and Crenshaw's double bogey -- left the European master ahead by a stroke.

That soon changed, for Ballesteros missed the fairway on the 609-yard 16th hole and made bogey, as he failed -- for once -- to get up and down from the thick greenside rough.

Player Out Ahead Associated Press

JERICHO, N.Y., June 18 -- Gary Player shot a 5-under-par 67 today to take a one-stroke lead in the first round of the $300,000 Northville Invitational seniors tournament.

Billy Casper, Gene Littler and Charlie Owens were tied for second at 68 on the 6,475-yard Meadow Brook Club course.