Seve Ballesteros may be banned in Boston and every other stop on the PGA Tour, but Deane Beman can't keep him out of the Masters.

Spain's latest crusader showed again today why most of the golf world considers him the bravura virtuoso of his game.

His second-round 68 for a 139 total put him one stroke ahead of Bill Kratzert and two in front of Tommy Nakajima at this 50th Masters.

After nearly 10 months of big-name boredom in golf, the glamor boys came to the front here this evening.

Within five shots of Ballesteros are the two most recent Masters champions, Bernhard Langer (68 -- 142) and Ben Crenshaw (71-142), plus such class acts as Greg Norman (142), Corey Pavin (143), Tom Kite (144), Johnny Miller (144) and Tom Watson (144). Even Jack Nicklaus (145) can dream.

Normally, that might bespeak a wide-open weekend shootout. However, this hasn't felt like a normal Masters, thanks to Ballesteros. Stirred to white heat determination by his father's death last month and his lingering feud with PGA Tour Commissioner Beman, Ballesteros arrived here with his sword drawn.

On Wednesday, he said that changes made to the 18th green here at Augusta National "won't matter on Sunday. By then the tournament will be over. I win." He was laughing and says now it was just his little joke. But he meant it, too. He also said: "This tournament is mine . . . . I know this course as good as my house. I'm ready to win."

Babe Ruth's home run call in the World Series was a lot more ambiguous.

Beman claims Ballesteros doesn't always hold up his end of a bargain. And he may be right. But nobody can say Ballesteros doesn't know how to keep his word. This round was inspired.

His 365-yard drive at the second hole served notice. That's right, 365.

Okay, so it was 'round-the-bend, down-the-hill and had a quartering breeze behind. Big deal. He still had a 190-yard six-iron punch shot to the 555-yard downwind par-5 hole. "It was a long way," grinned the titanic one, who scorched the front nine in 33.

At the famous Gene Sarazen-double-eagle 15th hole, Ballesteros took the lead alone with a 25-foot eagle putt after boring a four-wood shot through the headwind.

"Good shot, but not that good," he shrugged. "I have hit many, many better shots than that on that hole."

Then, to end the day in proper style, he trickled a 20-foot birdie putt into the heart of the 18th cup. "I didn't look at the scoreboard all day until then," he said. And what does he think now that he's looking at it?

Theatrical pause. Little devilish grin. Tongue poked in cheek. "Well, it looks pretty good."

He now handles the English language, and crowds, almost as defty as he hits soft, perfect sand-shot explosions with a two-iron at his clinics. As Crenshaw put it, "You gotta laugh with Seve . He's got a great personality, a lot of charisma the way he speaks."

The sporting public may believe that golf does not have a superstar at the moment. Pro golfers disagree. Only one player is held in awe. And it's not Nicklaus. It's Ballesteros.

True, he's not nearly as relentlessly consistent and motivated as Nicklaus once was. He's won "only" four majors at age 29, none since the 1984 British Open. No, he does not do well on tight U.S. Open and PGA courses. But give the man the sort of room to express himself that the Masters encourages and everybody can stand back. At Augusta National, Ballesteros at his best can spot the world strokes.

But is he at his best right now? Until this week, he'd played only seven competitive rounds all year.

"A lot of people thought he'd be rusty," said Crenshaw, a close friend who played two practice rounds with him here. "And he was, Monday, when he got off the plane. But by Wednesday, you could tell he was sharp. He'd found it."

"I don't think Seve is ever rusty," said Kratzert, who managed to shoot 72 despite being paired with fellow first-round co-leader Ken Green, who hit the ball like 90 and scrambled to 78.

One more mark of Ballesteros' grit this week was the way he recovered from an awful decision and a worse shot at the 13th hole.

He drove through the fairway and had a choice: an easy safety layup or a fairly tough cut three-wood shot off hardpan between two trees and over Rae's Creek to a tiny green 230 yards away into the wind.

Fairly tough? How about totally impossible. But, as usual, Ballesteros couldn't resist stretching the limits of his art.

The result: a hideous weekender's cold-top that never got airborne for an inch and scooted left into the drink.

"I don't know what kind of shot that was," said Ballesteros, who took bogey on an easy par-five hole where Crenshaw and Nakajima each made eagle and nearly every contender had birdie.

Some players might have wilted. In fact, under similar circumstances, Watson did. He bogeyed the 11th, then triple bogeyed the 12th just moments after he'd reached four-under par and a share of the lead.

Ballesteros simply may have too many motivations this week for any such mishap to unravel him. "My determination has been a big part of my game always," he said. But even more so now.

He has convinced himself he's being persecuted by the PGA Tour, which suspended him for a year because he played only nine U.S. events in 1985, not the 15 required by a rule Ballesteros helped write.

Whatever the legalities, he is using anger as ammunition. Asked again about the flap he said, "Does Deane Beman pay you to ask me this every day?"

Adding to Ballesteros' glee is the emergence here of so many foreign stars. Japan's Nakajima and Taiwan's T.C. Chen (142), join Ballesteros, Norman of Australia and Langer of West Germany in the top eight.

These gents play better the more they learn about the great American courses. Nakajima once took a record 13 shots at the 13th here; this time, that eagle three. "It is my friend now," he said gently.

"Maybe they just score better than the rest," said Ballesteros, ducking the issue that the United States may be losing its strangehold on world golf dominance.

Certainly the folks trying to make this the Augusta International scored better than Americans Craig Stadler, Andy Bean, Gary Hallberg, George Burns, Mac O'Grady, Hal Sutton, Hale Irwin, Ray Floyd and Arnold Palmer, who all missed the cut at 149 on this balmy, gusty day.

While others here talk about the importance of the final nine holes on Sunday, Ballesteros is thinking along other lines.

A rout, perhaps? Like '80 when he led by 10 shots with nine to play or '83 when he won by four?

"Still a long way to go," he said. "But a low score tomorrow and I may pick up some shots. Maybe some handicap for Sunday. It would be nice to have three or four shots of handicap for the last day."

An idle threat? A bluff by a rusty star? So far this week, Seve Ballesteros has done everything he's said he would do.