Searching Americans find first-round lead


ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- They're searching, these three famous American golfers tied for the British Open lead.

Tom Watson, Hall of Famer, is trying to find his first victory since 1987. Ben Crenshaw, Masters champion, has been looking for a game that deserted him recently. And John Daly, long on drives and noncomformity, is searching for solutions for his headaches and the gaps in his resume.

Maybe someone should call Scotland Yard and get them on the prowl.

Success or failure will come by Sunday. But for now, the three celebrated Yanks have found their way to the top of the 124th British Open board. Each, along with South African Mark McNulty, shot a five-under-par 67 yesterday at the fabled St. Andrews Old Course links.

On a sometimes drizzly, windy day when 59 players broke par and 25 more matched it, the front four set the pace by one stroke over transplanted Irishman David Feherty of Plano, Texas, two-time 1995 PGA Tour winner Vijay Singh, American veteran Bill Glasson and unheralded Swede Mats Hallberg.

On a day when Jack Nicklaus made a 10 and Arnold Palmer shot 83 in his farewell Open and Daly drove the green on a 316-yard hole, Americans excelled in a tournament won only once by a U.S. native in the past 11 years.

And more lurk. U.S. champion Corey Pavin is two back at 69, tied with, among others, constantly improving American Jim Gallagher Jr. Defending champion Nick Price, new major contender Davis Love III, budding superstar Phil Mickelson and Mark Brooks were in a pack at 70.

Greg Norman, his back sore and stiff, shot 71, as did Ernie Els.

Two United Kingdom favorites weren't as fortunate. Englishman Nick Faldo, the oddsmakers' pick, drove poorly and shot a 74. Scot Colin Montgomerie, a top-10 fixture in Europe in 1995, shot 75.

Crenshaw seemed to surprise himself after his six-birdie tour. He came here off form, as he was going into his emotional, dramatic Masters victory. Crenshaw has missed the cut in his last two events, at the Motorola Western Open and last week in the Scottish Open in his first trip around Carnoustie, where he had 77-74.

"The last two weeks have been extremely bewildering," said Crenshaw, who tied for second at St. Andrews in 1978. "I didn't know what I was doing. I played badly last week and my swing was not right. I didn't know what to do. But it helped me to come back here."

Watson, five-time British Open champion, made an early stir, shooting a morning 67 highlighted by a birdie-birdie-eagle streak on Nos. 12-14. His three approaches were splendid, leaving putts of only 6, 4 and 15 feet.

"When I went 3-3 at 13 and 14, I hit some shots I will always remember," said Watson, only even par through 11 holes.

He started the round by making a 70-foot birdie putt and ended it by making a 10-footer for birdie. "I putted great," said Watson, held back in recent years by inadequate putting.

The 67 tied his low first round in a British Open. The last time he did it, he won, in 1983 at Royal Birkdale, the final of his five titles. Should he win this week, at age 45, he would tie Harry Vardon's record of six Open titles.

Price, for one, said he wouldn't be surprised.

"From tee to green, [Watson] is hitting the ball better than he was in his prime," Price said. "He has more control and a better understanding of his swing than before. If he could get his putter to hold up for the week, he will be a factor."

Daly, the 1991 PGA champion and pro golf's longest hitter, lately has been bothered not by swing flaws but by headaches. He has taken the last three weeks off because of them. He figures the migraines are related to being sober since early 1993.

"I never had headaches when I drank," he said. "Now I get them all the time."

The rest helped, he said. Yesterday, patience and seven birdies and length aided him. "That's the most birdies I've made all year and that's probably the most patient I've ever been on a golf course," he said.

His long driving could make him a threat all week. Daly, who is using a new driver that affords lower trajectory and added distance, figures he could drive six par-4's in helpful conditions.

He drove the 316-yard 12th and two-putted for birdie from 20 feet yesterday. He was pin high on the 342-yard 10th. The 371-yard third, 356-yard ninth and 382-yard 16th also are drivable, he said.

"I love St. Andrews," Daly said. "It's the best course in Britain or Scotland for me."

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