Thursday, it was wind mixed with rain. Friday, it was a gale. Today, it was lightning. Sunday, the tail end of tropical storm Anna is forecast to pass through the area.

If ever there has been a British Open that has met all the wild and woolly criteria that go with a British Open, this is the one.

Through it all, two men have resolutely stalked the hilly fairways of Royal St. George's Golf Club and kept the course and the weather from doing them in. Predictably, after three days, they are not the Christy O'Connors, Sandy Lyles, Phil Parkins or Tony Johnstones, who populated the leader board early in the tournament.

One is Bernhard Langer, the current Masters champion, twice the runner-up here, a man who might just be the best player in the world right now. The other is David Graham, who has won both the U.S. Open and the PGA, someone who the other players say saves his best golf for the majors.

Tonight, when the long lightning-interrupted day was over, Graham and Langer had put three shots between themselves and the rest of the field. Langer, who probably has hit the ball better than anyone the last two days, shot 68, and Graham, missing two short putts coming in, shot 70.

That put them both at 209, one under par for three rounds and three shots ahead of O'Connor (72), Lyle (73), Ian Woosnam (71) and Mark O'Meara (70). One shot further back at 213 are two U.S. players who brought themselves into contention with sterling rounds today, Tom Kite (67) and Peter Jacobsen (68). Just hanging on to a shred of hope at 214 are D.A. Weibring, who double-bogeyed 18 today, and Greg Norman.

"Anyone at four over (214) or better still has a chance to win the tournament," Graham said. "Especially on this course where the closing holes are so tough. If you go out there and put up a low score early, it might be tough to beat."

More likely, though, this tournament will be decided in the final twosome. Graham and Langer both have been in this position before. Each says he likes the idea of having his major foe beside him. And today, they easily left the two-round wonders in their wake.

"I'm quite happy with my game right now," Langer said. "I've hit the ball well the last two days and if I had made a couple more putts today my round really would have been excellent."

The major problem for Graham and Langer, and for most of the field, was the lightning and thunderstorm that sprang up at about 3:30 this afternoon. Before then, the day had been windy, but almost pleasant, except for a brief downpour that hit shortly after Lee Trevino came in early in the day with a 68, putting him at 217.

Ballesteros, the defending champion who barely made the cut Friday at nine over, was four under today after 14 holes before falling apart the last four to finish the day at even-par 70. He has played the last four holes in eight over par the last two days.

"I would say they have cost me the tournament," he said. "It's just not my week."

It also is not Tom Watson's week. The five-time champion began the day as if he intended to make a move on the leaders. Beginning at five over (six back), he chipped in at No. 2 and was one under on the day coming to the easy par-5 seventh.

But, as has happened often in the last year, Watson's driver and putter failed him. He drove in the rough at seven and missed a 12-foot birdie putt there (most players reached the green in two); drove in the rough at eight and nine and made bogey at both; then missed a three-foot putt at 13 for another bogey. He finally finished with a 72 for 217, eight shots behind the leaders.

"I just didn't get enough putts to drop," he said with a tight smile. "You don't win golf tournaments that way."

Graham began as if he intended to run away with the tournament, birdieing holes No. 1 and 4.

By then, lightning had been flashing for a while. Officials called for a halt and players began scrambling for cover as the rain came down. Langer was fortunate to find a West German friend near the fifth hole who invited him to a house adjacent to the hole for tea.

Graham, like most players, waited in a shelter until the 65-minute delay was over. Then, the two men resumed their duel. By this time, Lyle, the English-born Scotsman (his father is a Scot) who had started the day tied with Graham, was beginning to fade. He missed the green at eight and made a bogey, went over the par-3 11th and made bogey and missed short birdie putts at 12 and 13 that would have allowed him to creep back.

O'Connor, who started one shot back, made one birdie all day -- he made seven in a row Thursday -- and slipped back. Woosnam hung close until he missed two short putts in a row at 14 and 15.

And so it was left to Langer and Graham. At one point, after he birdied No. 7 to go to four under, Graham led by three shots. But Langer played the back nine with steely efficiency while Graham wandered to and fro, into and out of trouble.

Langer hit seven greens on the back nine, an extraordinary total at the end of a long, wind-blown day. His only mistake came at 18, where he pulled a seven-iron shot and chipped poorly 25 feet short of the pin. "That was disappointing," he said. "But I imagine there were a lot of bogeys there. Still, I hit a poor chip. It happens."

Like Langer, Graham understands, as he put it that, "no one plays this golf course perfectly. You have to be patient with your mistakes."

Graham made three mistakes on the back nine. He pulled his drive into the heavy rough at 13 and made bogey from there. Still, he led by two shots coming to 16. He hit the green there with a five-iron, just missed his birdie putt and then shockingly missed an 18-inch par putt. "That was inexcusable," he said. "The greens were so slow by then that I told myself to go for the birdie putt. I hit a good putt, knocked it just past. But I never should have missed coming back."

At 17, Graham three-putted again, this time from about 60 feet, to put him at one under. With Langer already safely in at that score and the 18th hole still to play as dusk closed in, it appeared Langer might lead alone. The eight players who preceded Graham at 18 played the hole in 10 over par, none of them making par.

But Graham played the hole superbly, hitting the fairway and knocking a three-iron safely onto the green.

"I like this position," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing with Bernhard tomorrow. It should be a good day's golf."