"I've never played in front of that many friends," Donnie Hammond said. "It feels like you're not by yourself out there. It makes you feel confident."

Hammond, with a raucous hometown gallery rooting him on, shot 70 yesterday in the Kemper Open. His 54-hole sum of three-under-par 213 leaves an outside chance at a first PGA Tour victory for the third-year pro who learned golf at the VFW course in Frederick, Md.

He attributed his good play lately (he has made the cut in eight of his last nine tournaments) to better putting, from gripping his putter more lightly.

Hammond, 28, now a resident of Daytona Beach, Fla., has earned $109,210 for his career, $24,333 this year, with his best finish 10th place for $13,000 at Houston.

"I have to play my best game tomorrow to win," he said. "You win before you know it. I can't think about it. It will just happen."

Yesterday Hammond birdied holes 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12 to pull within three shots of the lead, before bogeying the 14th hole.

Hammond served notice of his ability in the PGA Tour qualifying school of 1982 with rounds of 66 and 65 and a 14-stroke victory at the wicked Tournament Players Club course in Ponte Vedra, Fla.

He was introduced to golf when his father (caddying for him this week), traveled to Westminster, Md., to watch the old Baltimore Colts practice. First, the two played golf at a nearby course. He went on to star at Jacksonville University.