Wayne Levi's most ballyhooed accomplishment as a touring golf professional was being the first player to win a PGA Tour event using the sport's newest fad, the optic-orange ball. That was at this year's Hawaiian Open.

It may come as a suprise to many but, of the players competing in the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club, Levi ranks as the hottest player on tour. He was third two weeks ago in Atlanta, tied for second last week at the Memorial Tournament, and, after a 68 yesterday, is fourth in the Kemper with a three-round total of 211, five strokes behind leader Craig Stadler.

"I'm terribly underrated," Levi said. "I've won four tournaments in five years and close to a half-million dollars ($502,181) in prize money. That's pretty good golf, I think."

Yesterday's round was very good golf. Only Stadler (67) was lower and only Bob Gilder matched it. On a course that takes its toll by attrition and was playing extremely long because of midday rain, Levi was one of only nine players of the 78 who survived the 36-hole cut who improved his score in each of the tournament's first three days.

It wasn't always so. Levi, 29, remembers when both bogeys and double bogeys would make him finish a round nonchalantly. He would pack his bags and skip a tournament or two. He said he came home one time and his wife Judi told him, "You aren't even trying."

"When you're playing good, it's easy," Levi said. "It's when you're going bad that you have to reach back for something more. That in a nutshell is why my game is where it is this year (eighth on the money list at $145,072)." He finished 69th last year with $62,177.

For example, he shot 72 on Thursday and started Friday's second round three under par for eight holes. Then he made a double-bogey 7 on the ninth hole. In the past, he might have said, "Sayonara."

This time, he went to the par-5 10th hole, hit a good drive and then hit his second shot eight feet from the hole. He made the putt for an eagle. double bogey, eagle averages par.

At Atlanta, he shot par the first day, yet was third in a tournament won by 15-under par. At the Memorial, he shot 40 on the opening nine the first day, yet tied for second.

"I've looked at every great player and it doesn't bother them when they make a bogey," he said.

Washington pro Lee Elder added 73 to earlier rounds of 76 and 71 to lead the local players at 220. Fred Funk, assistant pro and assistant golf coach at the University of Maryland, shot 75 for 223; Larry Ringer, Naval Academy golf coach and pro, was at 224 after a third-round 75.