Night rushed in behind the flood, making Augusta National Golf Club a wonderful place for ducks with headlights. But the kid didn't want to quit. Even if Jim Hallet couldn't see halfway up the fairway, he wanted to tee it up at the 18th. This dream was too sweet to be so short.

Lives there a kid golfer who hasn't seen the Masters and imagined his name on the leader boards? His name in big letters next to PALMER and FLOYD and WATSON? What would it be like (he whispers this) to win the gosh-darned thing?

Jim Hallet stammered over that last question today. For a minute this afternoon, he was tied for the lead in the Masters. He began the day on the leader board, next to the big shots, and he looked at every board all the way around the course, just to be sure his name was there.

Then, coming down the 11th fairway, Hallet noticed that at five under par he was even with Gil Morgan, the erstwhile leader.

"At minus-five, I could . . . "

Hallet stopped. Dare he say this?

Yes.

". . . I thought I had a chance to win. Uhhh. I thought I--uhhhh."

So he isn't Churchill on Dunkirk. But he went on bravely. "I still could . . . "

For six hours today, Jim Hallet played alongside Arnold Palmer (who tried to sell him some clubs) and Severiano Ballesteros (who wanted to see his sister). And as the mist met the gloaming of a Georgia day, Jim Hallet was still three under par for 35 holes--only four shots behind the leader, Morgan.

"Arnie argued with the officials to let us play the 18th," Hallet said. "We all three wanted to finish . . . I've played in the pitch black before. Back home. When I was a kid."

Jim Hallet is 23, from South Yarmouth, Mass. He's a senior at Bryant College in Rhode Island. His New England accent is thick enough to frighten crows flying overhead. The biggest tournament he has won lately is the Central Florida Classic. He used to be goalkeeper for the Bryant hockey team, where the bad guys fired 65 shots a game at our hero ("I saw a lot of rubber").

He escaped hockey with his original teeth ("Just got knocked on my can a lot"), and now has surfaced in Augusta as this year's amateur Wunderkind who plays his hockey puck off for a couple days until, come Sunday, his muscles refuse to accept collect calls from his brain.

Right now all parts of his body are in working communion. It is a pretty thing to see. Off a semifinal appearance in the U.S. Amateur last summer, Hallet earned an invitation to the Masters. That's not as good in New England as getting Bobby Orr's autograph, but Hallet liked it enough to buy some books on the Masters.

"I wanted to know about the traditions and the golf course and everything," Hallet said.

Four amateurs stay at the Augusta National clubhouse in a third-floor dormitory called the Crow's Nest. It's $25 a night and all the dreams a kid could want. Bobby Jones ordered up the place, to save the kids money, and Hallet says it's real nice.

So nice that he arrived March 29 when he couldn't check in until April 1. He has been there since, leaving only to play 27 holes each day until the tournament.

"The first two days here, I was in complete awe," Hallet said. "I haven't left the grounds yet. Late at night, it gets awful peaceful here."

In Hallet's first-round 68, he knocked in a 40-foot putt for an eagle three at the 15th. The Masters gives pieces of crystal for eagles, which Hallet didn't know until 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby told him.

"Sam Snead has 96 pieces of crystal just from this tournament, Mr. Goalby told me," Hallet said.

Not a country club clone who wowed 'em in junior golf ("I'm an overnight success"), Hallet attacks the ball from an unorthodox crouch that is suspect on many grounds, including a visible sway.

All the funny stuff puts the ball in the fairway and on the greens, though, and so Friday night Jim Hallet learned he would play in the Masters with Arnold Palmer.

"I slept very well," he said.

Was he shaky at all today?

"I enjoyed it, Arnie's Army and all. At first, I was a little bit shaky. Uhhh. Well. I wouldn't say 'shaky.' "

A smile of surrender.

"Yeah," he said, "shaky."

Hallet said he tried conversation with Palmer and Ballesteros. "They were concentrating." But during a rain delay, Palmer looked in Hallet's golf bag. "He told me, 'My new irons are much better than yours.' " Another time, Hallet said, "I told Seve that my sister thinks he's gorgeous, and he said, 'Point her out to me.' "

Hallet insists, as all the Wunderkind do, that his game is solid and he has no butterflies and what's to worry?

"I'm swinging within myself, keeping it smooth."

Someone asked if he ever stopped to think, "What the hell am I doing here?"

"Not really. It's just great to be here. It's like a dream come true . . . My first goal was to be respectable, to make the cut. Being in the hunt is so much better, being in the thick of things . . . I still am thinking I can win. Three under par. Everything says if you keep it a few under par here . . . "

About 8:30 on Sunday morning, Palmer, Ballesteros and Hallet will finish today's round. He said Palmer's last words were, "See you bright and early in the morning."