MUIRFIELD, SCOTLAND -- Lee Trevino came to the British Open, his favorite tournament -- the one he holds so dear he's promised to swim across the Atlantic if need be to play it -- with one fervent wish: "I want the wind to blow, and blow hard." It's not that any gusting off the Firth of Forth would improve his score so much as it would handicap the rest of the field. Trevino knows he can play the low ball in the wind, and he's been around long enough to be pretty confident most of the others can't. "See, I think I can shoot par, or 1 or 2 under, even if the wind blows," he explained. "If it blows 20, 25 miles an hour, you'll get rid of lots of guys who might win if it doesn't."

Becalmed, Trevino snorted, "it'll be a putting contest," forecasting the winning score would be "lower than 13," a reference to Tom Watson's British Open record 13 under par here in 1980. But a big wind gives Trevino a chance to win. So forget the fact that The Garrulous Gabber is having the self-confessed "poorest year I've ever had playing golf." And forget the fact that he's only played 10 tournaments, and missed the cut in six of the first eight. This isn't some cushion-greened, mini-roughed, wide load-fairwayed piece of pie San Diego 25-under Classic we're talking about, this is the British Open; as Trevino said admiringly, "one of the few tournaments where you can go out in short sleeves and come back with skis on."

This is Muirfield. Trevino won here in 1972, declaring "God is a Mexican" after chipping in on 17 to beat Jack Nicklaus and deny him a shot at the Grand Slam. Trevino relishes every hard, scrubby inch of this place, and he doesn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Wind he knows. He apprenticed the craft in wind at Tennyson Park in Dallas, where he used to hustle dollars using a 32-oz. Dr Pepper bottle off the tee on par-3s. "People talk about Chicago being windy," Trevino hooted. "Hell, the windiest city in the country is Dallas. You can smell the refried beans from El Paso, 680 miles away. You can tell what they're having for dinner there when the wind blows in."

So what happens?

Trevino tees off early in a Scottish morning as calm as decaffeinated coffee; what gentle breezes he finds are at his back on 16 of the 18 holes. And he nonetheless birdies five of the first nine, shoots 67, 4 under par, and lands in second place, three strokes behind the leader, Rodger Davis, a 36-year-old Australian who wouldn't even have returned to the golf business if his motel hadn't gone belly up. Davis dropped off the European tour in 1982 after buying a motel on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Presumably next to the vacancy sign he advertised: Looking For Golf Game? No Stakes Too Small. Inquire at Desk.

It's three rounds and hundreds of shots away from being over, but if Trevino were to win this tournament, at 47 he'd be the oldest British Open champion. (Trevino isn't the type to look too far ahead: "At my age, I don't even buy green bananas," he said.) Still, Nicklaus, for one, wouldn't be surprised to see Trevino win. "I don't think I've ever seen anyone who can consistently hit the ball as straight. He's amazing," Nicklaus said of his chatty rival. "I think he can win anytime he wants."

And, to some degree, that's been the rub. Trevino freely admits the desire that once burned now barely flickers. "In 1972, I worked on my game for two weeks at a golf course in central Texas to prepare to defend my British Open championship. I'd never do that now. I just don't get into it much anymore. I don't practice. I don't worry about it. If I post a score, fine." Trevino joked he'd start practicing again in 1989, when he turned 50: "I want to play the Senior Tour."

But Trevino, like Nicklaus and Watson -- and Arnold Palmer and Gary Player before them -- like all the truly great players, is juiced by the majors. It's a kind of automatic shift to a higher gear they unconsciously make. Trevino's best finish last year, for example, was fourth in the U.S. Open. And how serendipitous the way he suddenly regained his putting stroke, as magically as putting an old top hat on Frosty The Snowman. Trevino had given his mother-in-law an old Ping putter; cut down the shaft special for her to use. But just last month she told him she didn't like it, and when he came to her home in Hartford, Conn., prior to the Hartford Open, he found it just lying there. He reclaimed it, put a 9-iron shaft on it and found it fit him like a glove. Like he told his practice round partners, Nicklaus, Watson and Greg Norman, the other day: "Boys, I'm not hitting too well, but this flat stick's working real good."

Trevino went around on Thursday in his customary style, yapping all the way. One playing partner, Gordon Brand Jr., was charmed by Trevino and reported, "He was quiet briefly, but they were not prolonged moments." The other playing partner, Japanese pro Masahi {Jumbo} Ozaki, said he loved playing with his good friend Trevino, and no, there wasn't a language barrier. But one pauses before accepting these comments as gospel since Ozaki made them through an interpreter. Trevino said he thought Ozaki understood him, but couldn't be certain. "It's always this," giggled Trevino, bobbing his head repeatedly in an exaggerated bow. (The question arises: What would Trevino do if he was grouped with three Albanians? Brand said: "What he does anyway: pick some stranger out of the crowd, joke with him for a hole or two, drop him, then pick out someone else.") After the 67, it was suggested to Trevino that he could win this thing if he had a permanent playing partner to talk to. But Trevino insisted instead that he needed "someone to listen to me," quickly adding, "I can always find someone to talk to. I'll talk to the bugs if no one's around."

In closing, Trevino was asked if he'd bet on himself to win here; he had long odds, 50 to 1. No, Trevino admitted, he hadn't. "The only bet I ever made on myself was here in 1972. First round, I shot 73. My odds went up, so I bet again. I bet with six couples, friends of mine. When I won, the bookmaker showed up at the party with a suitcase full of pounds to pay me. It was about 32 degrees outside, and he was perspiring. Heavily." Trevino's rich, hearty laugh filled the room like 76 trombones.