Bert Yancey shot 80 today in the first round of the Atlanta Gold Classic and said he didn't deserve to play on tour until he could do better. "I need to practice more and play in some local touranments more before I make another run at it," he said. "Today's round was pretty indicative."

After playing well in four practice rounds, Yancey said his goal was to qualify for the last 36 holes here. He talked of winning the Southern Open, a PGA event in October. This week was a comeback, Yancey's first tournament since manic-depressive illness drove him off tour five years ago. He was having so much fun, he said he would play at Memphis in three weeks.

But as he sat on a tee bench at the sixth hole this morning, Yancey was two over par and, save for holing out a sand slot, would have been in worse shape. He hadn't hit two straight good shots yet.

"The world's greatest putter," Yancey muttered, "three-putts the first two holes."

His girlfriend, Laura Carley, said, "Just don't give up."

"That's what my caddy said. 'Don't give up on me,'" Yancey said with a laugh. "It'd be kinda stupid to get this far and give up."

"A lot of holes to go," Carley said.

"That first hole, I hit it in the left rough and into a rut. So I make double bogey there. And I hadn't been out of the fairway all week." Yancey shrugged. "But funny things happen on Thursdays."

For every wonderful shot Yancey hit today -- every shot that he might have hit in the early '70s when he won seven tournaments and moved with the game's great players -- for every good shot, he hit a hacker's botch.

One example is enough: at the par-5 eighth, he drove into sand, came out into trees, jerked his third across the fairway into rough, dropped his fourth into a trap ("Another foot and it'd been perfect," he said in the duffer's lament) and then missed a 10-footer. A quick double-bogey seven.

He did some nice things. At the fourth hole, after putting his drive in the Chattahoochee River, he knocked a 70-foot sand shot into the hole for a par. And at the 18th, a big two-wood shot around the edge of a pond to the front of the green set up a three-foot birdie putt.

"I slept good last night. I felt good this morning," Yancey said. "I figured I would play well. I had no more butterflies than normal. The motion on my full swing was good, and I hit the ball about as well as I expected. But I three-putted three times, and I hit one wedge over a green into trouble to make a double bogey."

He couldn't believe the putting problems.

"I couldn't get comfortable over putts," said Yancey, who missed three from five feet and made only one from as far as 10 feet. "I felt yippy. I was just scared. I haven't played enough."

Thursdays can be funny, the man said, for Thursday it all counts.All those putts you made in practice meana nothing when it is for real.

"Anybody can putt in moonlight," Yancey said. "I'm looking forward to playing tomorrow, but even a good round won't change my mind. I don't deserve to go to Memphis. The lid's off now. A good round tomorrow won't mean much. Once you're out of competition, you don't learn much about myself.

"Not what I learned today, anyway.

"But I'm happy with it. It's stupid to say you're happy with 80, but I am."

Putter in hand this morning, Jack Nicklaus walked onto the practice green. He walked by a figure in a white visor, bent over a putt. Nicklaus looked at the man. He looked twice to be sure. Then he came over to shake hands.

"Good to see you, Bert," Nicklaus said. "When's the last time you were out here?"

"Westchester,'76," Yancey said.

They traded chit-chat, about Yancey's faithful old putter with the grip coming unwrapped and about Nicklaus playing next year in the PGA tournament at Yancey's home, Hilton Head, S.C.

"Good luch," Nicklaus said, leaving.

"Thanks," Yancey said.