After 10 years without making the cut in a major, Ballesteros feared he might not break 80.
Even more pleasing than his score was being joined by his 15-year-old son, Baldomero, who is his caddie this week.
To walk on the fairways in the Open with my son was fantastic and I played a little bit better than I expected. I didnt have much confidence, said the Spaniard, whose last round in a major was an 85 at the Masters three years ago.
Troubled by persistent back injuries and a horrendous slump Ballesteros hasnt been competitive since his last victory in the 1995 Spanish Open. Although he started with a bogey and collected three more, he made back-to-back birdies on the par-3 ninth and par-5 10th.
Playing in the Open there is a lot of pressure and I was nervous, obviously, mainly because I have not competed for a long time and the practice days didnt make me feel very optimistic, he said.
But I played with the heart as always and 74 is a good round.
Jesper Parnevik and Brad Faxon mingled outside the Royal Liverpool clubhouse at dawn Thursday morning, looking like two guys who were the first to arrive with hopes of getting a tee time.
Thats exactly what was on the line at the British Open, and both left disappointed.
They were the first two alternates, needing players to withdraw to get one of the 156 spots in the field. After waiting for nearly 11 hours until the last group went off, they packed their bags and headed home.
Parnevik interrupted a vacation in Sweden when he learned he was first alternate. Faxon was sixth in line, but figuring the others wouldnt show up, he flew Monday from Rhode Island and took his chances.
I thought hed still get in, Faxon said of Parnevik. I think he did, too.
Faxon warmed up in the morning, then headed to the range again to take a nap in the Titleist trailer. His only hopes of players pulling out were Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer because of their bad backs. There were doubts about Seve Ballesteros, but he went off early and shot 74.
Compounding the disappointment for Faxon was finding a flight home Friday.
Everything is sold out, he said. Im going to have to check around with other airports.
Faxon recalled being first alternate in the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and two guys who were injured tried to play and later withdrew. He wound up going to the Providence Classic, which he won.
Maybe this will bode well, he said. Something good will come out of this.
Faxon lost his chance to play first by having a pedestrian year that caused him to slip in the rankings. Then, the U.S. qualifier was washed out, and he didnt get a chance to qualify.
He likes the idea of the British Open expanding its criteria to get a stronger, more diverse field. But he questioned criteria that allows the top finishers from the last three PGA TOUR events to qualify'Hunter Mahan (tied for second in Hartford), Mathew Goggin (tied for second at the Western Open) and John Deere Classic winner John Senden.
I still dont think the qualifying procedure is perfect, he said. Why doesnt winning a tournament get you in, but finishing fourth does?
Faxon won the Buick Championship at Hartford last year.
About the only distraction Seve Ballesteros faced Thursday was playing with Ian Poulter of England, who wore bright red pants with sequins down each side and a logo of the claret jug on each leg.
Ballesteros, ever the traditionalist, wore a white shirt with dark pants.
Something different, Ballesteros said. He looks to me like a Spanish matador. But he should not be in red, because the bull always goes for red.
Poulter certainly didnt find red numbers on the scoreboard. He wound up one shot behind Ballesteros, at 3-over 75. And the gallery didnt think much of his wardrobe, either.
Oh my God, look at what hes wearing! a female fan blurted out as Poulter walked toward the third green. Isnt that ridiculous? Elvis lives!
RETURN ON THE INVESTMENT
Fred Couples is a fan of Royal Liverpool, and he couldnt figure out why the R&A waited 39 years to bring the British Open back to the course. Someone told him the layoff was due mainly to the infrastructure.
I guess so, Couples said. I mean, Im paying 14,000 pounds for my house this week, so they must have known we were coming. They had a few years to prepare for this week.
Tom Lehman is getting plenty of attention this week, and not because this is the 10-year anniversary of his British Open victory.
This is a Ryder Cup year. He is the U.S. captain.
Thats almost all I hear about, Lehman said after a 68.
Nearly every person over here is saying, We wish you luck this week, but not in September. Thats been the standard comment Im getting -- 100 a day, 200 a day or maybe more.
Lehman talked earlier this year about playing his way onto the U.S. team'there hasnt been a playing captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963. But he has largely given up on that though, although a victory this week would easily put him into the top 10.
If Im in contention, its because Im playing well. Its not Ryder Cup related, I can assure you, Lehman said.
He would prefer to see Americans atop the leaderboard to earn points for the team, although that didnt happen Thursday. The top American was Tiger Woods, who already is assured a spot on the team.
Darren Clarke stepped up to the fourth tee box, and pulled out his putter.
When Clarke yanked his second shot at the third hole far left of the green, the ball wound up on the tee for the next hole. He considered chipping toward the flag, then decided the putter was the best way to get through a patch of beaten-down rough between the tee and the green.
Only one problem: there was a red power chord running between the two holes. So he pulled that out of the way, and finally got down to a most unusual putt.
Unfortunately for Clarke, he didnt swing hard enough to get the ball through the rough, up a ridge and onto the green. He wound up making bogey, one of his few mistakes on the way to a 3-under 69 that left him only three shots off the lead.
Tom Lehman and Graeme McDowell were the only players who did not make a bogey in the first round. ... U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy birdied the last hole for a 1-under 71. ... Davis Love III is 11th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and sure didnt do himself any favors Thursday, opening with a 75 that could send him home early for the second straight major. ... Jarrod Lyle, diagnosed with leukemia seven years ago, shot 74.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.