Tom Weiskopf, diplomat, shot a third straight 68 yesterday in the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club. This 68, the diplomat said, was a miracle in that he drove the ball into dark jungles and yet made putts that rolled so far the dimples needed retreads.

Once a cold warrior from the Woody Hayes school of assured mutual destruction, Weiskopf on this day was the model of diplomacy. He said he loves these Washington crowds. He wishes the whole tour was so much fun.

Tom (The No Longer) Terrible even had something nice to say about photographers.

Photographers are golfers' natural enemies. A covey of 747s passing treetop high over a golf course would bother a golfer less than the infernal click-whir-click of a little camera at greenside. Don't ask why. Golfers are not ordinary people. If they aren't hitting the ball just the way they want to, golfers can hear babies crying in Montana. If they're playing well, they couldn't hear Howard Cosell.

Anyway, here we are at the first green on the third round, and what you notice right away is the faint puff of smoke curling from Tom Weiskorpf's ears. He hasn't even come to his three-foot putt yet, but he has heard the raucous racket coming from a shutterbug 30 feet away. As Weiskopf's playing partner, Danny Edwards, putted, the camera had been clicking.

"We look out for each other," said Weiskopf, meaning the golfers are one-for-all in this eternal war with photographers. So Weiskopf, whose glare can melt steel, is glaring at the unsuspecting fellow, who keeps clicking merrily away.

And now, as Weiskopf is crounched and lining up his three-footer, there comes a crack of thunder, a rifle shot, a siren wailing at greenside. Well, actually, it was a camera click.

Weiskopf is 38 and growing up.A decade ago, he might have lashed this photographer with words bluer than blue. Yesterday he simply rose from behind his ball, took four steps toward the cowering photographer and said, in a steady if stern voice, "All right, man. Let's establish one thing. Don't take my picture when I'm lining up a putt. It breaks my concentration. All right?"

After his day's work, which was sensational and puts him two shots out of the lead and within reach of his first victory in three years, Weiskopf was so much the charmer that he even made excuses for the photographer. He said maybe it was the guy's first golf tournament. Maybe the fellow didn't know the golfer's character.

And when the nosy newspapermen asked what was going on, Weiskopf turned the insignificant incident into a parable of sorts that, unconsciously perhaps, revealed that this man with the golden swing is psychologically ready to win again.

"I took the Woody Hayes course called Photography 401," said Weiskopf with a disarming chuckle, naming his fellow Buckeye who once shoved a camera into a photographer's face during Rose Bowel week.

"Woody said to explain what you'd like them to do. Warm them. And if they don't do it. . . ."

The mind reels against the possiblities, and Weiskopf smiled at the thought. "I didn't take 401-A. I thought that course might be a little too tough for me."

If today's winner is not Craig Stadler, Weiskopf, John Cook or Jim Simons, the $72,000 first prize will go to a very surprised golfer. By their work in three rounds, those four have shown the grit and consistency necessary to win on one of America's greatest golf courses.

The tender hands of the golfing gods touched Cook and Stadler yesterday, for they were magic for an hour apiece. Building his 66, Stadler made successive birdies at 15, 16, and 17. Cook was in such a fog of wonder that he said he didn't even know he had made five striaght birdes -- beginning at the seventh hole -- but he knew, "I had five in a row earlier this year at Tucson."

No, John, it was five straight at the Crosby, the tournament you won. So complete was Cook's hit-it-at-flag-and-don't-think act, he said he didn't even bother to look at the leader boards around the course until he came to the 17th hole. He wasn't interested in who was leading (he was, by four shots at one time).

All he had in mind, Cook said, "was making more birdies . . . If you can make birdies on every hole, you pretty much know how you stand."

Standler was into this golfing metaphysics, too, especially when he had an iron in hand. Five times in the last 11 holes, Stadler put a full iron shot within six feet of cup.

"You get so much confidence in your irons, you feel you can knock it in from anyplace," he said, expressing a notice realized only by the very best of players. "With the greens so soft here, and being able to hit it at the hole, and you know you can hit the shot, there's no reason you can't hit it five or six feet from the hole."

While Cook and Stadler were in divine communion, the diplomat Tom Weiskopf was having trouble hitting his tee shots. A study of the ballistics gave no hint of his problem, for the shots were going both right and left. As often as not, Weiskopf was hitting second shots from the rough or, as on the 18th hole, from behind trees so far left of ideal as to require a passport for travel in and out.

"It was just one of those days when you don't feel comfortable doing what you're trying to do," Weiskopf said. He meant that every time he wanted to draw a shot, he faded it. And vice versa. But the diplomat in him lectured the press to remind us nosy fellows that he wasn't blaming anything on that photographer, or on a baby crying in Montana, or on anything but his own problems.

Anyway, he made every putt he looked at, including a 55-footer after sailing a nine-iron over those trees on the 18th. And as he moved around the course, many of the estimated 22,000 customers called out to Weiskopf, cheering him as he struggled to stay in contention despite terrible driving that could have ruined the round.

"It was a very enthusiastic crowd," Weiskopf said admiringly. "If we were lucky enough to play in front of crowds like this very week, the tour would be lots of fun. The gallery today clapped for you, encouraged you, and it was as big as any crowd I've seen on a golf course this year."