"When did you start beating your mother?" someone asked Greg Norman, the affable and talented Australian golfer who is in a four-way tie for second place in the Masters Tournament.

The question was apt, because Norman, a fine athlete with beach boy good looks who swam, surfed and played football competitively, only took up golf at age 17 when his mother had a handicap of three.

Greg started beating mum fairly quickly, because he had an immediate affinity for the game and his handicap went from 27 to scratch in 20 months. Now 26, he is in his fifth season as a pro, and has won 17 tournments around the world.

Norman, a dedicated professional despite his playboy reputation and zest for fast cars (he owns two Ferraris) and stylish women (he has dated celebrities), said he felt "fantastic" about his 69-70 -- 139 start in his first Masters.

He reveres the Augusta National Golf Club, whose 6,905 yards he has tamed with his mammoth hitting and sure touch, and idolizes the leader he is chasing: Jack Nicklaus.

"The guy obviously has got the best mental attitude of any player in the world. He believes in himself all the time," said Norman, who as a young player set on beating his mother, bought all of Nicklaus' instructional books and read them several times.

Severiano Ballesteros of Spain, who last year became the youngest Masters champion at 23, never got settled this year and failed to make the cut after abysmal rounds of 78 and 76.

Ballesteros has been wrangling with officials of the European tour, who this year estabished a rule forbidding payment of appearance money, and has lost confidence in his game. Even before the start of the second round, one of Ballesteros' friends was asking if the dethroned champ could leave town Friday night if he missed the cut, or if Augusta National protocol required him to remain for Sunday's closing ceremonies, in which the previous year's winner traditionally places the green coat symbolic of victory on the new champion.

Bruce Lietzke, who ordinarily has immense confidence in his crosshanded putting stroke, said he was "dumbfounded" by his lack of touch and inability to judge Augusta National's new bent grass greens over the first two rounds, even though he shot 72-67 -- 139 to tie Noran, Tom Watson and Lon Hinkle for second place.

"Those were my worst two putting rounds of the year, and I'm five under par," said Lietzke, "I've only made three putts longer than five feet, and I've missed six or seven inside four feet."

Despite long hours on the practice green, he has been unable to isolate his problem, and it is dwelling on him.

"I haven't got a clue what's going on on these greens," he said.