On the practice tee yesterday, the second-round leader of the Kemper Open noticed a familiar figure intruding on his backswing. Some other golf fans on the planet might be familiar with him, but only one person would be wearing a shirt with "Charlie's Angel" on the front and "Go Bolling" on the back.

At the moment, Charlie Bolling has a simple goal: to be somebody in pro golf. Michelle Jaminet had arisen at 5:15 a.m. and flown from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to help make that possible.

Bolling's parents also were on hand to join Charlie in a pairing that illustrated the ambitions of men who swat small dimpled balls for money.

The idea for each member of the final threesome is to avoid something. Bolling is trying to avoid oblivion. Mike Reid is trying to avoid his 520th straight week without a victory. Larry Mize is trying to avoid throwing thousand-dollar bills around Congressional Country Club.

For Bolling, the arrival of his girlfriend was not the only surprise of the afternoon. It was the only nice one. Quickly, he was humbled, by a double bogey on the first hole. Soon, he tumbled from first place all the way off the leader board.

Three-putting from two feet starts a golfing avalanche.

Everybody from the shepherds who devised the game in Scotland through the best and worst of players has stubbed a near-gimme four feet past the hole. Bolling can be forgiven for wondering which golf god he offended for that to happen to him at just the wrong time.

Three-putting is awful anywhere in a round. On the first hole, it's a pill that can poison an entire round. Swallowing hard, Bolling escaped the afternoon alive.

"See that cart over there?" he said to his caddie moments after a birdie putt slipped by the hole on the 18th green. The cart was immediately in their path; the number on it was exactly what Bolling had shot: 77.

Some humor -- and perspective -- had remained.

For Mize, each of the final nine holes at Congressional has a memory: pleasant and sad. He was 5 under par for the last 13 holes during last year's third round; he blew a four-shot lead on most of that stretch the next day.

The difference between what Mize would have gotten for winning and what that finishing 39 fetched is $46,000. He could look into the water off the 10th green and figure lots of it was drowned there, with his second shot on Sunday.

And so on.

Mize is going to flail at Congressional's backside until he gets it right. Fittingly, he is in position for that to make him a winner today. Or to cause more heartache and embarrassment.

How they react to tough times is what makes golfers so compelling.

Charlie Bolling could have flung his putter toward a squirrel's nest after that three-putt sin and the bogey that immediately followed. Three over after two holes has 80-plus potential; instead he was close to even par the final 16 holes.

He was angry with his fate.

What'll he do about it?

At another level, Mize has a swing a duffer would pay dearly to borrow. He has won once on tour and squandered seemingly comfortable leads here one year ago and at the TPC two months ago.

What'll he do about it?

Only the most gifted golfers ever get themselves in position to swoon on Sunday. In truth, it's one of Bolling's small dreams.

Mize is cautious about today because he is realistic about himself -- and about his sport. Who knows about the damnable game? Who knows when the weight of glory will make a crooked stick swing like an anvil?

Reid has been close to a winner much of his 10 years on tour. His career has been a birdie putt that has caught the lip and spun out. Once more, he's sort of in position to lose.

What'll he do about it?

In the third round yesterday, Reid would slide back each time he had the lead within reach. Difficult strokes with the putter hurt him twice.

Reid is thin as a reed -- and about as animated. An assault on his lack of color was considered, until it became known he is one of us: a newspaper stiff.

Every month or so, he cranks out a column for a newspaper for the handicapped. The next piece is due in a week or so. Which means that we admire his swing -- and envy his deadline.

Like Mize and Reid, Bolling fantasizes well enough. He also sees himself firing his fist in victory. Sometime. Somewhere.

Without much of a reputation, Bolling went about creating a name for himself. Let's see, he said, Arnie has his Army; Jack has his Pack; Tway even has his Twoops.

Bingo!

Bolling Allies.

Get it?

Hey, it's a start. Same as grabbing the lead after two rounds of a watered-down tour stop is a start toward a solid career. Same as not turning to mush late yesterday afteroon was hopeful.

"We all have our stories," writer Reid noted. On and off the course, he pecks his out one blow at a time.