The rain in Spain falls mainly on Steve Ballestero's hometown in the northern Basque lands.

"All my best shots of my life have been in the rain," said Ballesteros, who, after a splendidly soggy 68 today, enters Sunday's final round of the 44th Masters with a mountainous seven-shot lead, 13 under par at 203, and a crack at the Augusta National scoring record.

Since he was a boy, running onto the Real Pedreno course next to his father's farm when rain sent adults scurrying for shelter, Ballesteros has loved the mood of golf in a mist. "I still practice every day in the rain in Spain," he says. "That is when I am most comfortable. Everything is empty."

In those childhood days, Ballesteros had only one club: a three-iron. Today, it was a three-iron shot in the drizzle that may have transformed a shaky, disaster-prone round into a spectacular Masters-clinching day of glory. s

There are always two Ballesteroses. One is a distraught and self-critical young man who can rail at the fates and shoot a dispirited 80, as he did in last year's U.S. Open. The other is a sublimely confident and daring 23-year-old master who plays the best streak golf in the world.

A single shot can transform one into the other. It did today.

By the eighth hole this afternoon, Ballesteros' four-shot lead entering the day had shrunk to two shots. The Spaniard was one over par for the day, had made three bogeys and had struck his errant ball into woods, onto the tees of other holes and next to scoreboards.

But, on that 530-yard par 5, Ballesteros took out his three-iron, consulted his hip-pocket strategy notebook (220 meters to the pin), then struck a scorching 245-yard blow that rolled two feet from the hole for a tap-in eagle.

Thereafter, his lead back to four shots, Ballesteros commanded center stage alone. He amassed six birdies and that eagle for the day, giving him 66-69-68 for his 203 total.

Ballesteros' true goal, presuming he does not play 18 holes on Sunday the way he played the first five today, is the Masters scoring recore of 271, which he could match with another 68. In addition, he could become the first man ever to shoot in the 60s in all four rounds here.

His competition appears almost nil, since the man in second place -- Ed Fiori (69-210), who looks like the pro from hamburger haven -- says his current hope is "to finish in the top five."

A semidistinguished quartet at 211 included J. C. Snead ("been playing, lousy for two years"), Australians David Graham and Jack Newton ("the tournament is over"), and Andy North ("Turn on the fan . . . he's blown us out").

A stroke further in arrears are Fuzzy Zoeller, Rex Caldwell, Jim Simons, Gibby Gilbert and Jim Colbert.

To be sure, the past two Masters give evidence that almost no lead is safe. Hubert Green, three shots ahead entering the last round in '78, and Ed Sneed, five shots up after Saturday last year, both lost. The most recent winners -- Gary Player and Zoeller, began Sunday with seven- and six-shot deficits.

Also, Art Wall in '59 entered the last round six shots behind. Jackie Burke in '56 was eight shots deep. Both won.

However, the green-coat progression that Ballesteros really appears to be duplicating is the eight-shot romp of Ray Floyd in '76 when he matched Jack Nicklaus' record 271, and almost equaled the Bear's record nine-shot margin of victory.

Then, Floyd played the eminenty reachable par 6s here in an unprecedented 14 under par. Ballesteros already has played them 11 under par.

"I was five under on the fives today," said Ballesteros. "I think that is pretty good."

A player more confident than Ballesteros, as of this moment, could hardly by imagined.

"You know, I will have a seven handicap for tomorrow," he said, smiling. "Once before, I had a lead of eight shots . . . I won by 13. As for the weather . . . any kind of day will be fine with me."

Likely, Ballesteros will get more of the rain that he likes. The forecast carries a 90 percent chance. What could not have been forecast, however, is the way Ballesteros turned an embarrassing round into a masterpiece today.

At the first hole, he drove dead right into the woods and made bogey. At the easy par-5 second, he blasted out of a greenside trap for birdie. At the third, he knocked a flip wedge so far over the green that the ball ended on the fourth tee so Simons and Caldwell had to stop play. Ballesteros recovered so weakly that he had to sink a three-footer for bogey.

At the fourth, he avoided a possible three-putt bogey from 50 feet by making a slick six-foot comeback. And at the fifth, he hit a hook so disastrously bad that he said, "It was awful. One of the worst, even for me. I thought I had hit it sideways between my legs.

"I was in big trouble. As I was walking (after hitting a provisional drive), I say, 'Seve, you cannot quit. If you can just make (double-bogey) six here, you are still tied for the lead."

Instead, Ballesteros' guardian angel continued to smile. His ball wasn't lost, although it rolled downhill to a spot near the sixth green that, Masters officials said, no ball had ever before reached. Ballesteros wedged over pines and eventually made an almost miraculous bogey.

At the sixth hole, his day began to change. He came within inches of a hole in one, his ball hitting a yard in front of the pin on the 190-yarder and stopping a foot behind.

"I have never made hole in one. Not even in practice," said Ballesteros. "I think maybe this was my day."

From then on, it was entirely Ballesteros' day. His eagle at No. 8 changed his mood from tension to jubiliation. He promptly hit a 340-yard drive at the downhill ninth hole.

"I have a lucky hole," said Ballesteros. "The 13th. That is my favorite number."

At the 13th today, he drove far into the crowd, only to have the ball bounce back into the fairway. For the fourth time in two days, he had pumped the ball into the woods and made birdie. Of course, he followed with gimmie birdies at the 14th and 15th. After a bogey at the 16th, he pleased the crowd with a final 15-foot birdie putt at the 18th.

After 54 holes, Ballesteros has 19 birdies, one eagle and eight bogeys. In other words, fewer pars (26) than "others" (28).

"I feel like I am very far from home," says Ballesteros, who still lives in the windowless room in his parents' home where he grew up. "I am 15 hours from my father."

Ballesteros moved an entire Spanish entourage into the house he rented near Augusta National, including a Spanish chef from Canton, Ohio, who cooks him a special, secret "skillet omelet" before each Masters round. No, it is not a Spanish omelet, but Ballesteros won't say what is in it.

The point is that Ballesteros is a creature of rituals and familiar surroundings. He has never been too far from home, since all golf courses are greatly alike.

His clothes look great, because of who is in them, but his entire outfit today could have been bought off a rack for $100. His baseball-style $6 hat camouflages his dashing looks and seems to be his symbol of serious concentration. He pulls or throws it off, so his beaming face can be seen only after great shots.

That Ballesteros face, as vividly volcanic as Arnold Palmer's, and attached to a soul just as one-dimensionally fixed on a brave and breathlessly expressive form of golf, can only become better known after his feats and fortune here.

It hardly seems the destiny of Ed Fiori, known in the locker room as "Honda grip" because his right-hand grip position is very strong ("on the throttle"), to overtake so largely drawn a character.

Ballesteros loves the rain. And Sunday will bring it. Ballesteros' favorite number is 13. And Sunday is the 13th. Ballesteros' vision of his own life and its meaning is to be the world's greatest golfer -- the first itinerant champion of the entire earth from Spain to Japan to Britain to Australia to Augusta.

And Sunday, with 271 in his sights, could be his next major step.