The first round of the Masters is golf's sylvan circus. Every year, the dizzying potpourri seems similar, yet richly different.

The day is a long welter of heroes and victims. Yet, at sundown, the results are utterly indeterminant: a four-way tie for the lead at 69, a sevenway logjam for second place at 70 and 27 players within three shots of the lead.

The scores, both good and bad, which are of most general interest, like those of leaders Johnny Miller, Lon Hinkle, Curtis Strange and Greg Norman -- and of Jack Nicklaus (70), Hubert Green (70), Isao Aoki (70), Tom Watson (71), Bruce Lietzke (72), Hale Irvin (73), Ray Floyd (75), Lee Trevino (77), Lee Elder (77) and Severiano Ballesteros (78 on his birthday)--must share the bill with events that are bizarre, piquant and fleeting.

Out from the junipers pops a dazzled amateur who discovers that he's been paired with Arnold Palmer. His name is Jim Holtgrieve, and he shoots the round of his life: 70. "At the second hole, I asked Palmer if I could call him 'Arnold,'" said Holtgrieve, a St. Louis salesman with an admittedly modest game. "He said, 'Hell, call me 'Arnie.' I said, 'Thank you, sir.'"

Look behind a Chinese fir and there's a foreign hotshot, unheralded in America, who, in the next-to-the-last group of the day, ties for the lead after taking his only bogey of the day at the 18th. He's the 26-year-old Norman, an Australian and a glamorous international slugger with $250,000 in '80 winnings who looks like the play-boy everybody says he is.

Peek through the holly and what do you see but a tour star who cards a 70, then discovers he's been clobbered with six strokes in penalties.That's Keith Fergus, who, after two drives so long and straight that they rolled into crowd crosswalks, thought he was allowed a ground-under-repair drop into a better lie. Sorry, Keith: fall from one shot off the lead to 53rd place.

Glance beneath a flowering crabapple and who should be lurking there but "The Bear" -- Mr. Nicklaus, himself -- muttering imprecations against his putter and saying, "This is the best ball-striking round I've ever played here (since 1959). If I'd had anybody putting for me, I'd be leading by five shots."

Listen to the poor-mouthing from among the azaleas of Humble Hubert Green, moaning, "My putting stroke is terrible. I know it. Gonna go to to pro shop and buy a new putter right now. Don't worry, I'll get out of here (the interview room) before Nicklaus comes. I know who you really want to talk to."

Investigate the whimpering behind that Carolina cherry of Doug Tewell, winner of $161,684 last season. The poor fellow tapped a 50-foot downhill putt from the back of the slick ninth green, then watched the ball scream past the hole and roll 15 yards back down the fairway, leaving him a 100-foot comeback. "I'll see your 50 feet," said the new bent-grass green, "and raise you 50."

Who's that sulking behind the magnolias but defending-champion Ballesteros, the streaky gambler who believes in luck and omens and who, when things don't go his way, can do as good an immitation of a quitter as any top player extant.

The four players atop the huge Augusta National leader board had never shot an opening Masters score better than 71. All were stunned by their own competence; after all, pin placements were the hardest for any first round in memory. "Most of the flags were on the edges of cliffs," snickered Nicklaus. Not since 1964 has 69 been good enough to lead the first round.

"If there were a 'nervous meter' on the first hole of every tournament, I'm so calm I wouldn't even register. Except here at the Masters. I get so uptight I can't putt," said Miller, who in 10 previous Masters as a pro has averaged an atrocious 74.7 in first rounds and 71.23 thereafter. "Playing with Fuzzy Zoeller (77) relaxed me and I used a weird putting grip that I dreamed up last night with the thumb of my right hand digging down into the top of the shaft to keep me from (yipping) the club up too quickly."

The most incredulous leader was Hinkle, who, since his pet putter (bought with his own money at age 13) was stolen two months ago, has been in an abysmal slump. "The new putter's just not the same. It doesn't have all the nicks and cuts from getting beat on trees. Heck, it even has a straight shaft," said the hot-tempered Hinkle. "I've been going so bad that my little daughter has changed what she says to me when I leave for the course. She used to say, 'Daddy, no bogeys today.' Now, she says, 'Daddy, no double bogeys today.'"

Least likely leader to survive could be Strange, who has missed the cut in three of four previous Masters and who needed five one-putts and a chip-in birdie on the front nine today to keep his keel steady. "Who knows how you score or why?" said Strange. "In the past, I've just exploded here."

As Nicklaus, who hit 17 greens and missed four putts inside six feet today, has said many times, the first round of the Masters isn't for winning greens coats, it's for making sure you don't lose one. A dozen quality players, all primed for glory, did just that, including Jim Simons (70), David Graham (70), John Cook (70), Ben Crenshaw (71) and Jerry Pate (71). Only a few contenders, like Floyd, Andy Bean (75), Trevino, Zoeller and Ballesteros harmed themselves.

However, this day may be remembered longest by Fergus and Holtgrieve, those symbols of Masters disgrace and jubilation.

At the eighth and 17th holes, Fergus gave himself those illegal drops. At the 17th, an official spotted him. "I've done the same thing in other years," pleaded Fergus. "Look at the back of your scorecard," said the official. "It's a local course rule. It's a one-stroke penalty for touching the ball and two more strokes for moving it to a better lie."

"To me, white lines (marking the crosswalk) mean ground under repair. But," added Fergus dismally, "I should have taken 30 seconds to read the card."

Holtgrieve, by contrast, knew only joy: "I was speechless when I learned I was playing with Palmer. He was my boyhood idol. I figured I was going to shoot 70 or 104. On the back nine, I had a hard time drawing the club back. I just wanted to get to the clubhouse with a round that I could talk about when I'm 84."

Can an amateur win the Masters, Mr. Holtgrieve?

"Yes," said Holtgrieve. "But not this amateur."