ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND, JULY 19 -- There were enough events and convulsions over The Old Course to fill an entire tournament today, but this was merely the opening round of the 119th British Open. Greg Norman made a charismatic, recognizable leader, Michael Allen of the United States was a curiosity of a co-leader with his 100-foot putt, and "Our Nick" Faldo raised a gratified roar from the home crowd when he holed out for an eagle on the 18th to trail by a stroke.
Norman, the Australian so often victimized in major championships by wrenching bad luck and his propensity for soaring first-round scores, shot a 6-under-par 66 that was totally out of character. He hit all 18 greens in regulation, did not make a bogey across par-72 St. Andrews, drove the 316-yard 12th hole for one of his six birdies, and raked a 14-foot putt into the 18th for his last.
"I want to get my chance of winning it and this obviously helps a lot," he said.
Allen, an obscurity who failed three times to qualify for the U.S. PGA Tour and is known chiefly as last year's Scottish Open champion, shot a 66 of ludicrous good fortune that suggested he may not be a leader for long. He made his 100-foot birdie putt on the par-4 13th and two saves of par out of whin bushes. "You know, those prickly things, I've still got one in my leg," he said. A three-putt on the undulating 18th for his only bogey cost him the sole lead.
St. Andrews could not be more giving than it was this afternoon in spa-like weather. There were 50 subpar rounds and some golfing equivalents of handsprings in the field of 156. The most enlivening was Faldo's deuce on the par-4 18th. Standing with his face to Royal and Ancient clubhouse and confronted by the waist-deep Valley of Sin, Faldo pitched an 8-iron from 40 yards on to a swale and the ball ran gently into the hole for a round of 67.
"Obviously it made the day," he said. "I hit it in the right direction, and it was a total bonus it went in."
With the sun beating down so relentlessly and the wind gusting only moderately over the compact, twisting links, those who couldn't score had only themselves to blame. Eight players were tied with 68s, including PGA champion Payne Stewart, Ian Woosnam of Wales and Peter Jacobsen, whose double-bogey at the infamous Road Hole, No. 17, cost him a share of the lead.
Five players with 69s were led by two-time champion Lee Trevino, 50, five birdies proving that the winner of six Senior Tour events this season was only being coy when he said, "I can't threaten anybody."
Even those who struggled somehow found a way to stay under par, unless their putting abandoned them on the severe, elongated greens. That was the case with Curtis Strange's 74 and U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin's 72, which he called "woeful." Five-time champion Tom Watson three-putted from the Valley of Sin to settle for par. Arnold Palmer's 73 was a moral victory at age 60, playing in what he said is his last British Open.
The secret to St. Andrews is to score as heavily as possible over the front and middle of the course -- they call it "caning the loop" -- and then hang on over the difficult closing holes. Some could and some couldn't. A cluster of 14 players shot 70s, most notably rookie Robert Gamez, who eagled twice on the front nine only to give back most of it.
Another pack of 20 with 71s was highly distinguished, including three-time champion Jack Nicklaus, who won here in '70 and '78. He made nine straight pars on the back nine. Two-time titlist Seve Ballesteros of Spain, the 1984 victor at this site, double-bogeyed the 17th. Lanny Wadkins preserved his round despite two double bogeys, and so did Fred Couples, who saved a par and a bogey after unplayable lies in bushes.
Defending champion Mark Calcavecchia also was in the group, although disgustedly, and maybe he summed up what a lukewarm score one-under was on such a generous afternoon. "It was a lot of rotten golf," he said. "The only thing I can say is that it wasn't a 75 or 76."
The Old Course has a fail-safe defense in the Road Hole, the dire 461-yarder that is recognized as the most difficult par-4 in the world. All kinds of wreckage was littered there, most significantly Jacobsen's double-bogey from the impossibly deep greenside bunker to relinquish a place with the leaders.
Ballesteros stood on that tee at two under par, but he drove into the left rough and a clump of grasping long roots, twisted a 7-iron left behind a scoreboard, took a free drop, lofted a wedge to the back of the green, then three-putted for double bogey.
"I played nice except for that," he said. "It made all the difference."
Norman's 66 was the sort he usually reserves for the final round, like his 64 last year at Royal Troon to force a playoff with Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady. He has been prone to early disasters, such as an opening 76 in the Masters. This was his best start in a major championship since his 65 in the first round of the 1986 PGA, which also ended unhappily for him when Bob Tway holed out from a bunker on the last hole to beat Norman by one shot. It could be taken as an announcement that he is intent on adding a second major championship to his 1986 British Open title at Turnberry.
He attacked the course with maneuvers like that at the 12th. His colossal drive made the front of the green 40 feet from the flag, where a taken aback Scott Simpson was standing over a putt. "Fortunately it didn't disturb him too much," Norman said.
At the 567-yard 14th, he hit a driver and a singing 3-wood into a greenfront bunker, then lofted a sand wedge to a foot. The 18th is a short but expansive par-4 of 354 yards, and his drive was flag-high and 22 yards left of the green. He putted the ball around the dangerous swale of the Valley to 14 feet and jammed the last putt in with certainty.
"You'd like to shoot a good score every time," he said. "You've got to take advantage of everything you're given. I try the best I can every time, and sometimes it doesn't work out. I hope I play the latter part of the tournament like I normally do, but I'm not concerned about that now. I've done a good day's work."
No one knew quite what to make of Allen, 31, of San Mateo, Calif. This is a homecoming of sorts, as he spent the past three years on the European Tour. He turned pro in 1983, a horticulture major out of the University of Nevada-Reno, and finally qualified for the U.S. circuit last year.
In his rookie season he has made the cut in 11 of 18 events, his best performance a tie for 12th at the Los Angeles Open after leading in the first round with a 63. He shot an opening-round 82 in the British Open two years ago.
Allen called his 66 "fantastic," and it was, in more ways than one. At the par-4 second and third holes he had to rescue his ball from bushes, driving wildly right. But he also ran off seven birdies, a classic caning of the loop with six of them over the eight middle holes.
At the 425-yard 13th, he made a thoroughly ridiculous and electrifying stroke. His 5-iron strayed left and landed 100 feet from the flag, on the left side of the double green shared by Hole 5. He sank the putt, the ball hopping in the air and disappearing. Jacobsen, watching from the adjacent green, bowed.
"It was at least 100 feet, I don't know, I couldn't see that far," Allen said. "You just hit it as hard as you can."
The only stroke that caused a larger reaction was Faldo's last, which ended a solid if unspectacular round that included one bogey, at the 17th. As he stood in the 18th fairway, he knew he would trail Norman by three strokes unless he could make something happen. His 8-iron pitch-and-run caught the right break on the slope, and he clenched his fists to an explosion of noise. "In," he said.
It made up two strokes and thrust the two-time Masters champion and 1987 British titlist into perhaps the most menacing position in the field. "It's a four-day tournament," he said.