A WEEK ago, Scott Hoch, a seven-time winner on the US Tour, ``distinguished'' himself with some fairly mindless comments about, in no particular order, British golf, St Andrews and the Open Championship.

The Old Course, Hoch felt, was a place suitable for nothing more than grazing land. Cows and sheep were mentioned. British golf was ``crazy'' because of the ``luck'' involved in playing well. And such freakish conditions made the long trek to the Open a waste of time.

Hoch, long reckoned to be a complete ass by many of his peers on both sides of the Atlantic - and now confirmed as one of the bigger point-missers in golf - is thankfully almost alone in holding such views. Most of the top Americans have a great appreciation of the way golf is played in these islands.

Take Brad Faxon, the man who missed that putt against David Gilford in the Ryder Cup last year. The 34-year-old Rhode Islander has been coming to the Open since 1985. Unlike many of his compatriots, he makes the trip even when he's not exempt.

``This event is special to all of us,'' he said after his first-round 67 yesterday. ``This is what it's all about. It's the Olympics of golf.''

While explaining his bogey-free round, Faxon also had some harsh words for Hoch. ``I think Scott Hoch made a big mistake,'' he claimed. ``It's sad that a guy who plays so well doesn't come. If he wins in Mississippi this week, who cares?

``I think that any exempt player who doesn't come to this event should not be allowed to play in either the Ryder Cup or President's Cup teams. Hoch has no business staying home. But he is not the only one. There are a few others. I'm embarrassed and I'm not alone. It's pitiful.''

When he was finished with Hoch, Faxon was asked for his reaction to the performance of his playing companion Colin Montgomerie. Monty had not had the best of days, rounding off his two-over par 73 with a sand-strewn double bogey at the 414-yard final hole. That, however, was not what had incurred the majority of the Scot's wrath. That honour fell to some apparently indiscreet amateur photographers.

As usual, Europe's top player wasn't one to keep his feelings to himself. At various stages of the round he was heard to mutter, not entirely under his breath, ``bloody cameras,'' ``you'd think they get enough access,'' and ``they're banned at the Masters, you know.''

``I wouldn't want to be a fan with a camera right now,'' said Faxon with a smile. ``It's almost like Monty is happier when he's telling people off.''

At the end, Monty was somewhat terse. ``My longest putt was three feet today. You need a bit of good fortune out there and I didn't have any today. Perhaps I'll have some tomorrow.''

Faxon concurred with his companion's assessment. ``Monty was unlucky at 18,'' he said. ``He hit the ball well all day and made nothing.''

Faxon, aware that Monty's outbursts would attract a fair bit of tabloid attention, was especially sympathetic because of his experience in Australia a few years ago.

``I was over a shot when a guy started talking into a mobile phone,'' he explained. ``I stopped and asked him to call back, so he moved three feet further away. I said `thanks'.

``The next day there were banner headlines saying, `Faxon blasts fan,' and signs everywhere asking people not to use their cellulars. All because of me,'' he said. ``So I know where Colin is coming from.''

Where Monty is going is another matter. This setback is the latest in a long line of poor Open performances by the world's No.2 player. Only once has he made even the top 10. The only conclusion is that his temperament is the problem; it certainly is not his golf swing. Perhaps he's putting too much pressure on himself.

Not that he will get away from that today. A good round is needed if he wants to be around come the weekend.

Oh, by the way, Scott Hoch will be playing in the Dutch Open next week. Isn't it amazing how a spot of appearance money can make all the difference to one's principles? Don't call us, Scott.