The pretty story of this Masters is Ben Crenshaw's return to grace. He shot today's best round, a 68, in a maddening wind that turned good men inside out. That jewel brought Crenshaw home in a tie for second place. Seve Ballesteros won the money, but Crenshaw won more than money.

Come now to the 13th fairway at Augusta National Golf Club. It was here, about 3 o'clock this afternoon, that Ben Crenshaw said he is back. Here he did a piece of work both delicate and powerful, the gutsy diamond-cutting he did so often before his game, like a stone cut poorly, disintegrated.

Only last fall, faced with this shot at the 13th, he might have called in his regrets. Then he was the Ben Crenshaw who made an 11 at a par-3, the melancholy facsimile in search of what the real thing used to be. His marriage was in pain. He earned barely $50,000, half the take of his previous worst year. Once the golden boy out of Texas, a watch-charm blond with Palmer's pizzazz, a dreamer who loves golf history and wants to walk with the great ones--was Ben Crenshaw done at 30?

"I had 14 clubs that wouldn't behave," he explained.

Crenshaw was 227 yards from the 13th green today, into a quartering wind, with Rae's Creek flowing in menace at green's edge. He had a sidehill lie. This circumstance makes wimps of strong men, who choose the discretion of a safe layup shot, a few yards short of the water and eight miles short of winning anything worthwhile.

With a three-wood--"I had no doubts"--Crenshaw sailed a shot toward the green speckled with the dim shadows of pines. The ball sailed higher and higher, lifted by the breeze, until it flew into the shadows. Then, falling, it came nearly straight down, white against the darkness, white passing the azaleas.

"It was a perfect golf shot," Crenshaw would say later. "It didn't look like it could do anything but land eight feet from the hole."

A butterfly lights on a rose petal only a bit softer than Crenshaw's ball floated to rest at the shadows' edge, in the sunlight, eight feet from the 13th hole.

It was an "icy putt with a foot break right," by Crenshaw's description, and he slid it downhill for an eagle 3 that moved him to four under par. Earlier he made three birdies, each on a short putt created by precise shot making (he hit every fairway and 17 greens). That 68 was one of only 10 rounds today under Augusta's par of 72, so difficult did the strong wind and final-round pressure make the course.

"How about a 64 today?" his father Charles said to Crenshaw this morning.

"Sounds good to me," the son said.

With a strong wind always a golfer's demon, Crenshaw figured a 66 might win it for him.

"I was glad the wind blew, but I didn't count on Seve shooting 31 on the front nine," he said afterward. "And I had a pitiful putting day. I didn't make one longer than nine feet."

When someone asked if it felt good to finish second, Crenshaw said, "I've done that before (1976). It's good playing, but winning's better . . . My bad playing is over with." He ranks sixth on this year's money list with more than $126,000, a far cry from his collapse of '82 when he managed only two top-10 finishes and missed the cut in the PGA in the late summer. An eight-time winner on tour, he yet hasn't won since 1980. The PGA debacle prompted him to take a month off from work.

Because Crenshaw is universally liked, his friends wanted to help him out of his troubles. Ben Hogan worked with his right-hand grip. Byron Nelson wanted him to bend his knees more. Jerry Pate talked about rhythm and feel. But the advice, personal and technical, was often conflicting. Crenshaw now can laugh about it.

"I listened to 500 people and tried it all," he said. "I decided to take that vacation so I could get away from all that garbage."

As his golf game deteriorated, so did his marriage. His wife Polly, now 25, couldn't handle the dark moods borne of a golfer's loss of confidence. Crenshaw, in an interview with Mickey Herskowitz for Golf Digest, said, "Good night, it was like a death around here." Mrs. Crenshaw said she wanted to understand, but her husband withdrew--until he decided, good night, a guy can't die forever.

"I went back to the swing I'd always had," Crenshaw said. It's not that simple. First he had to get rid of the jerry-rigged thingamajig he'd concocted with all that free advice. Then he listened to his father and his old University of Texas coach, Harvey Penick.

"My confidence level was nil," Crenshaw said. "It was frightening. It's frightening any time you lose your confidence . . . I had to convince myself that my swing will work."

He made a change (on Nelson's advice) to work his legs into the swing more and make it less the floppy hands-and-arms whipping of the young Crenshaw. The result has been a swing Crenshaw believes in again.

It was late now, a half-hour after Ballesteros chipped in at the 18th. Crenshaw's father and wife waited for him. He did a series of interviews with TV people, saying the same thing to each, charming them all. Over a loudspeaker set up near the 18th, you could hear Ballesteros at the trophy presentation.

Right then, a TV fellow asked Crenshaw, "Were you surprised with your 68?"

"No, not at all," Crenshaw said as Ballesteros' disembodied voice floated by, "I want to thank . . . "

And then, as Ballesteros said," . . . everybody here at Augusta," the TV man asked Crenshaw, "Will you be back here next year?"

"Absolutely," he said.