SOUTHPORT, England &

On a day of howling wind and soaking rain, Rocco Mediate proved his performance at the last major championship was no fluke.




If he keeps it up, Mediate won't have to worry about Tiger Woods lurking in a playoff.




Mr. Everyman followed up his stirring performance at Torrey Pines by shooting a 1-under 69 today in a chilly, soggy start to the British Open. He chipped in for birdie at No. 17, then knocked in a 12-footer for another birdie at the final hole. He threw up his arms in disbelief, the first guy all day to shoot a below-par round.




"I love it here," said Mediate, playing the Open for the first time since 2002. "It's great to be back."




Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland quickly followed Mediate into the clubhouse with a 69 of his own, coming off a win in the Scottish Open.




For most, Royal Birkdale was a house of horrors. Phil Mickelson lost a ball in the tangly rough. Sandy Lyle and Rich Beem both gave up. Vijay Singh signed for an 80. So did Ernie Els, the worst score ever on his sterling Open record.




Turns out, Woods couldn't have picked a better time to miss his first major since 1996. He was back home in the States, all warm and comfy as he recovered from knee surgery.




Certainly, Kenny Perry must have been chuckling to himself after taking all that grief for deciding to skip the oldest of the majors because he didn't think it suited his game.




"It got to the point where you just don't care," moaned Pat Perez, who shot a 12-over 82. "Now I know why Kenny stayed home."




Perez played in the morning, when conditions were at their worst. Mediate had the good fortune of going off in the afternoon, after the rain had stopped and the wind tapered off a bit.




The 45-year-old from western Pennsylvania revitalized his sagging career at the U.S. Open, where he lost a 19-hole playoff to Woods but became the hero of average Joes everywhere with his "what in the heck am I doing here" demeanor.




Woods hobbled around Torrey Pines all week, then headed back to surgery for further repairs on his ailing left knee, knocking him out for the rest of the year. Mediate carried on, picking up right where he left off at the last major.




Australia's Adam Scott also was making a run at a red number. He three-putted the 16th for his first bogey of the day, but was still — under with two holes to play.




"Par is irrelevant on a day like this," said Craig Parry, who hit the first shot of the tournament and struggled to a 77. "You can only laugh and take it on the chin. The golf course is going to win."




At least the weather improved for those with later tee times, making it a little easier to reach holes such as the gargantuan sixth, a 499-yard layout that was listed as a par-4 for some reason. Boo Weekley was forced to play driver on two straight shots in the morning, when the rain was steady and winds gusted to 35 mph.




"If this is the summer," said Weekley, a native of the Florida Panhandle, "I couldn't live here."




Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir put up the best scores among the early starters, both shooting 71.




The South African overcame a double-bogey at No. 6 and somehow managed to put up four birdies in brutal conditions that made golf's oldest championship a stern test even without Woods looming over the field.




"One of the best" was how Goosen summed up his round. "It was a battle out there."




Weir also had a double-bogey on his card. But he countered it with the first eagle of the tournament at the 17th, where he knocked a 5-iron from 235 yards to 12 feet and sank the putt.




"Starting the day, I definitely would have taken 1-over par," the Canadian said. "The wind was at strong as I've ever seen."




Despite a sore wrist, defending champion Padraig Harrington got off to a solid start with a 74. The Irishman would have been even closer to the lead if not for a bogey-bogey finish, but was pleased with his round given that he seriously considered withdrawing just a day earlier.




"I think the bad day helped," Harrington said. "You had no time to think about anything else but your next shot."




The guy he beat a year ago, Sergio Garcia, shot a 2-over 36 on the front side.




Beem called it quits after reaching the midway point with a score 10 strokes higher. His first seven holes went like this: bogey, quadruple-bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, double-bogey.




"If I had continued, I don't think I would have broken 90," Beem said.




Lyle, who won the Open at Royal St. George's in 1985, reached a similar conclusion. The 50-year-old pulled out after playing the first 10 holes in an 11-over 49.




"I felt I could do myself more harm than good," he said. "It could take three weeks to recover from this."




They were hardly the only ones struggling. Mickelson, whose game isn't well-suited for links golf, lost his ball in the rough at No. 6, had to take a penalty and wound up with a triple bogey &

Lefty's score of 79 was the worst start of his Open career.




Els, considered one of the favorites with Garcia, fell apart down the stretch with three straight 6s and eclipsed the 78 he shot in the opening round at Royal St. George's in 2003.




Singh took the opposite tack, playing the first 11 holes at 10 over, with only two pars.




"You got rain blowing sideways. It was cold. It was windy," Singh said. "I didn't play that badly."




Others persevered. English favorite Justin Rose, who memorably finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in the last Open played at Royal Birkdale in 1998, struggled through the front nine but pulled himself together for a 74. David Duval, whose career fell apart after his 2001 Open win at Lytham, put himself in contention with a surprising 73.




Two-time Open winner Greg Norman, who recently married former tennis star Chris Evert, was — over with two holes to play.




"It's just a matter of digging in and scrapping it out," Rose said.