GULLANE, Scotland -- Raymond Floyd took a significant step yesterday toward becoming a legendary figure in golf. He shot a 64, 7-under-par, in the opening round of the 121st British Open at the Muirfield course and shared the lead with Steve Pate.
If Floyd, 49, goes on to win, he would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to have won all four majors: the U.S. and British opens, Masters and PGA Championship.
Asked about his chances, Floyd said: "I don't look at it like that. I just want to win the British Open, the one major I haven't won. But that would be fabulous company to be part of."
On a relatively calm, overcast day, scores were generally low on the historic course near the Firth of Forth.
Ian Woosnam of Wales and Gordon Brand Jr. of Scotland each shot a 65, and Nick Faldo of England had a 66, along with Lee Janzen and John Cook of the United States and Ernie Els of South Africa.
The 64s by Floyd and Pate were one stroke off the British Open record shared by four players.
"To go out and hit 17 greens and put the ball on a par-5 in 2 is about as good a golf as I can play," Floyd said.
Even though he is pleased with his best opening round in the 17 British Opens he has played, he had a word of caution.
"I've always said that you can't win a tournament in any one round except the last, but you can lose it in any of the four rounds."
Nonetheless, Floyd said he is playing the best golf of his career.
"Age to me is a number," he said. "I enjoy what I'm doing, and that's No. 1. I enjoy being competitive, and I'm fortunate my health has allowed that.
"The key is suppleness. I have worked hard to keep my flexibility, and that's why I haven't lost my length."
Floyd had eight birdies and a bogey in his round, and barely missed an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, where his 40-foot putt slid by the cup.
As for Pate, 31, there was no indication that he would charge to the top of the leader board.
He won the Buick Invitation of California in February and tied for sixth at the Masters in April, but, since then, his play has been undistinguished. He shot an opening-round 68 in the U.S. Open last month at Pebble Beach, then followed it with an 80, missing the cut.
Floyd was asked if the British Open was the most important of the four major events.
"I think so," he said. "In the world of golf, this is the Open championship. We in the United States have our Open, and everyone in the U.S. considers it the Open, but we in golf know the Open is this one, the golf Open of the world."
Floyd has had other opportunities to win the British Open in a pro career that began in 1963. His best finish was a tie for second in 1978 at St. Andrews, behind Jack Nicklaus.
Given the way he is playing now, Floyd was asked if he plans to delay joining the senior tour when he turns 50 Sept. 4.
"I don't have a clue what I'm going to do after September," he said.
After losing the Masters to Faldo in a playoff in 1990, Floyd said that it was probably his last chance to win a major, because he was 47 at the time.
That setback still haunts him.
"They wrote that Nick Faldo won the Masters in 1990," he said. "He didn't win it. Ray Floyd gave it to him. That's the way I feel about it."
Floyd said he actually lost the Masters on the 71st hole -- not the playoff -- when he made a tactical error with an approach shot.
"I should have played the hole for a birdie, and Faldo couldn't have beaten me," he said.
"That was the most difficult loss that I've ever faced, and there won't be another one that will affect me like that."
He has an opportunity, though, to atone for it.