Will the meek inherit the Kemper Open on Sunday?

Or will the sharks and other predators of pro golf make a meal of Larry Mize and Mike Reid once more?

At one juncture, Mize and Reid were four shots ahead of the field. But on the 18th hole at Congressional Country Club yesterday, after the television cameras were off them, both limped to the clubhouse with ugly bogeys.

Now, tough guys with real teeth, like Greg Norman and Curtis Strange, are snapping in their wake.

Mize (70 -- 208) may still have a one-shot edge on Reid after three rounds of this $500,000 tanning clinic, and Reid (71 -- 209) may have two strokes in hand on the best of the rest. But how many think they can hold on?

Reid is trying not to become the first golfer ever to win a million bucks and never win a tournament.

Mize is the man who took four-stroke leads into the final nine holes at the 1985 Kemper and the 1986 TPC and walked off the course both times with his own blood all over him. In the Kemper, he shot 39 on the back to lose. At the Players Club in Florida, four bogeys in the last five holes sufficed.

The smart-money cynics who would bet on Snidely Whiplash against Dudley Doright will tell you in a New York minute that Mize and Reid don't have much chance.

For them, Mize's 8-under-par rounds of 67-71-70 don't mean a thing. What they see is Mize, on fire after three straight birdies, coming to the back nine yesterday at 9 under with a chance to kick sand back in all the bullies' faces. Instead, he came home in 37 to open the door.

It's true that Reid birdied three of four holes to tie for the lead at 9 under after 11 holes. But he also made three bogeys the rest of the way. When two taps from 25 feet would have tied him for the top at the 18th, he three-putted.

The vultures are circling. There are long Dan Forsman (72) and Mike McCullough (68) at 211 with Norman and Strange. Gil Morgan, coming off a 66, is at 212 along with Bobby Clampett (74) and John Cook (71). Even past champs like Craig Stadler (73) and Fred Couples (73) at 214 are only one low number away from grabbing it all as Bill Glasson did with a final 66 last year.

The 214 shooters already have caught second-round leader Charlie Bolling, whose front nine on the way to a 77 began with a double bogey and bogey.

Such a nasty case can be made for why neither Mize nor Reid is likely to win the $90,000 first prize that it's no fun whatsoever to do it. Does some Great White Shark in the person of Norman, or some Leading Money Winner Last Season named Strange, always have to get the beautiful girl?

"We'll see if we can get it this year. That would be extra special," Mize said softly. "Hope the experience I've gained can help me. Some of it you can't describe. It's just being there. You get more comfortable . . . People can say all they want, but at least I was there. Other players tell me, 'Don't worry. It's all just part of it.' "

The reed-thin Reid writes a column for a Utah newspaper for the handicapped, and he says he already knows how he will begin his story if he wins.

"It'll probably be David slays Goliath. Or something about how I slew the dragon that I've carried around on my back for 10 years out here not winning and that I slew the dragon of Congressional, too."

If either Mize or Reid wins, it will probably be the most popular victory of the year among other pro players. Reid is the epitome of a player of limited physical talent who has squeezed every ounce of performance out of his 6-foot, 150-pound frame.

Mize's tempo is so syrupy that, if he can beat the last-day blues, he could be a top 10 type for years. The usual Mize parallel is to the diligent Tom Watson, who failed at every level of the game before eventually triumphing.

"I heard some of the things the gallery was saying today, and I couldn't help thinking about what Larry went through last year," said Reid. "But I got enough of my own baggage to carry. We've all got our own stories."

Golf is the game of baggage. Sometimes it seems that the worst hazards aren't water and sand, but memories. Bolling may need awhile to forget his first hole yesterday. He three-putted from two feet for double bogey.

"If I'd made that first putt, it would have been a totally different day," he said.

The men traveling light are, of course, Norman and Strange with their memories of victory. The galleries have adopted Norman, who had several times the following of Mize and Reid.

"I thought I'd won the golf tournament after I hit my shot into the 18th," Norman said, almost perplexed. "Here and New York are probably the most boisterous crowds anywhere that we play. On a hot day with a couple of beers, they get very keyed up."

After a double bogey at the second hole, Norman corrected course with three birdies and a five-foot eagle putt at the 10th hole, set up by a 4-iron approach. "My chances are as good as anyone else," said the 1984 Kemper champion. "Four shots isn't anything around here."

That was before Mize and Reid bogeyed the 18th. Now, it's just three shots.

"If I shoot 63 tomorrow, I'll win," said Norman. "With 68, I may still; but 70, I won't."

Did the man say 63? Confidence, it's wonderful.

For his part, Strange rolled home a 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th to help his sleep, then said, "I'm real close. I just didn't putt well. I three-putted the 17th and hit my first one so far past you couldn't believe it. I blew off about three fingers . . .

"I'm surprised the scores aren't lower," added Strange, sounding as if he'd like to remedy that.

So what if Reid won't stand up ramrod straight like Strange or speak with an air of command like Norman? Who cares if Mize has been in the driver's seat twice in his five-year career and both times has finished in a heap?

Sunday's a new day.

"I'm lookin' forward to goin' after it tomorrow," said Reid.

Just like John Wayne.

"Yeah, I feel comfortable with the lead," said Mize. "Tomorrow, hey, that's what it's all about."

Well said, Humphrey Bogart.

Slip 'em a couple of buck-up pills with breakfast and they just might be all right.