SOUTHPORT, England -- Seeking the crowning glory to his recent comeback, Seve Ballesteros weaved his way through the wind-swept sand dunes of Royal Birkdale until a finishing surge carried him into the first-round lead yesterday at the 120th British Open.
With a steady 25-mph wind blowing off the adjacent Irish Sea, the 34-year-old Spaniard played with a consummate control that never has been the hallmark of his game, particularly in recent years.
But on the final two holes, the swashbuckler in Ballesteros took over as he eagled the par-5 17th and made a 45-foot birdie putt on the 18th for a round of 4-under-par 66.
It was one better than the 67s shot by Santiago Luna, also of Spain, Martin Gates of England and Chip Beck of the United States. Tied at 68 were seven golfers, including the defending champion, Nick Faldo, while Tom Watson, a five-time winner, was among a group of six at 69.
"This is real golf," said Mike Reid, whose 68 made him the only American besides Beck and Watson to break Birkdale's par of 70. "We don't play real golf back in the United States. It is more a form of archery back there. Point and fire."
Ballesteros the golfer never has been a pointillist. He has won each of his three British Opens -- in 1979, 1984 and 1988 -- with bold, broad strokes inspired by the moment, the last time a few miles down the Lancashire Coast at Royal Lytham and St. Anne's, where he also held the first-round lead after a 67.
"I think I played great," said Ballesteros, who before he won the Volvo European PGA Championship in May had gone more than a year without a victory anywhere.
"I feel my swing is very good at the moment, and I think I know how to manage this course if the wind stays in the same direction."
Using his driver only three times and hitting with as little as a 4-iron on other driving holes, Ballesteros overcame the tendency to inaccurate tee shots he has fought for his 17 years as a professional.
The leader . . .
Seve Ballesteros 33-33-66
. . . and followers
Martin Gates 33-34-67
Chip Beck 33-34-67
Santiago Luna 33-34-67
Nick Faldo 35-33-68
Tom Watson 35-34-69
Jack Nicklaus 35-35-70
Lee Trevino 34-37-71
Greg Norman 36-38-74