He hit the longest drives on the tightest holes at Augusta National. He smacked a shot out of the water and rocks and nearly made birdie at No. 13, and when his stray shots have struck women in the gallery he has soothed the hurt with a kiss.

"The young man will win more than one green coat here," said Jack Nicklaus. "There is nobody playing our tour today that hits the ball as long as he does and controls it as well."

"He plays a lot like Arnold," said Tom Weiskopf. "He doesn't know when to back up. He's always attacking, going for the pin."

And soon, until the inescapable conclusion, that Severiano Ballesteros, 21 yesterday, is the most charismatic player to burst upon the Masters in a generation, or since the man who brought golf to the masses, Arnold Palmer.

Like Palmer, the young Spaniard brings a special daring to golf, a trait especially evident on this course that so encourages gambling. When someone asked Ballesteros why he took the risk of playing out of the rocks and water near No. 13 instead of taking a drop, he said:

"Why spend a shot for nothing?"

His victory at Greensboro the week before the Masters caused the PGA tour to offer Ballesteros a playing card without attending its school, nearly an unprecedented action. Reportedly, his play at the Masters has earned him a special invitation to the PGA tournament in August.

Ballesteros has about two months to decide whether to accept the PGA playing card. It is no certainty he will, because appearance money and earnings guarantee him an income well into six figures and he has enough exemptions to play in as many as 10 tournaments a year without a card.

For years now, nearly a decade in fact, the international golfing scene has been abuzz about this prodigy from northern Spain. The golf writer from the London Sunday Times, Dudley Doust, recalls talking with promising young Europeans and hearing: "Wait till young Ballesteros comes along. He's better than all of us."

Ballesteros was reared in a farm family keen on athletics and golf. His three brothers are golf pros and an uncle. Ramon Sota, played in the Masters. He gets much of his strength from his father, a rower of prominence.

The family dairy farm overlooks the Royal Pedrena Golf Club but Ballesteros learned his golf elsewhere for the most part, though he did sneak on the grounds now and then.

When Doust and a camerman visited Ballesteros, the most telling photo was of the young golfer hitting practice shots in the sand beyond the country club that denied him entry, it thought, as a youth.

At 19, Ballesteros gave the world his calling card, with a second-place finish in the British Open behind a wonderkind since gone sour, Johnny Miller. Since, he has nearly dominated the European scene, winning an estimated $250,000 last year.

A new family home is planned from his winnings, the present one having cattle and pigs housed in the basement. The Ballesteros dog is called Blaster, in honor of an American sand club he was given.

As Weiskopf and his other playing partners noted, Ballesteros knew no other word but attack at this Masters. And he remained in sight of the leaders in the final round until he tried to cut his tee shot too thin at No. 16 and popped it into the water.

As usual, he tried the risky route to the hole, hitching his pants and giving it a go. The ball came out of the water, but no far enough to avoid a double-bogey 5 that dropped him from four under for the tournament to two under.

For the most part, though, Ballesteros was ahead with his gambles. He putted through sand traps, tried to sail his approaches over water instead of laying up at the par-5 15th hole and used a driver on a hole everyone chose a three-wood or less.

That was the par-4 No. 7, the tight 365-yarder with trees which, from the tee, make it appear to be the width of a country road. Ballesteros always used a driver; he was always in the fairway - and at least 30 yards beyond anyone else.

"I've never seen anybody that far up on that hole," said Weiskopf. "It wasn't a smart shot, but it was the only way he knows how to play."

Nicklaus and others realize that unusually bold play is a fine way to attract fans, but not the way to win consistently. As Nicklaus said, "He needs only the experience and ability to adapt his game to different courses."

Part of that experience came yesterday. Like Tom Watson and so many others before him, Ballesteros put himself in position to challenge and then fell back. Yesterday the glory went to his playing partner, Gary Player. One day it might be his.