The walls of Raymond Floyd's den in his $2 million Miami home are decked with dozens of magazine covers of him in handsome living color. Behind glass cases stand huge silver trophies for victories in events including the Masters, where he holds the course record, the PGA, which he's won twice, and the Tournament Players Championship, where he picked up a $325,000 check for an afternoon's work.

Old Tempo Raymondo, the loosest and most genial of golfers, is not a vain man, just a proud one. The rest of his showpiece home gives little hint that he ever struck a ball for cash. But Floyd knows that a professional athlete needs at least one room to which he can go for reinforcement. As the birthdays pass, you sometimes want to be reminded how great you are, because it wouldn't help the mortgage payments if you forgot.

Only one thing is missing from Floyd's sanctum: a U.S. Open trophy.

That's the one he wants most, and now he has himself in position to do something about it, with his third-round 70 for a 213 total, three strokes behind leader Greg Norman going into Sunday's final round.

With the exception of Sam Snead, no great player ever has had such an awful record in the world's most prestigious event. It's not just that Floyd hasn't won the Open. He's never finished second, third, fourth or fifth, either.

For comparison, Jack Nicklaus has been in the top 10 at the Open 17 times. Floyd: twice. And one of those was a sixth place 21 years ago. Since then, Floyd has an eighth in 1971 and nothing over the last 15 years. In 21 Opens, he has won barely $50,000.

When the great mysteries not only of golf but of all sport are discussed, Floyd's Open jinx should rank fairly high. And among his fellow pros in the locker room, it does. But Floyd's secret seldom gets out. He's enormously popular and nobody wants to rip him.

Besides, there's a weird flip side to this conundrum that baffles logic. Floyd has finished between 12th and 16th in the Open -- which is quite good -- nine times. If you play the numbers game that way, he's been in the top 16 more often than Lee Trevino, who is considered a great Open player.

The final twist? Floyd is one guy who ought to eat up Open stress with a spoon. The book on his whole life says he's Mr. Pressure. Last week, Floyd became the fourth man to win $3 million on the pro tour. "My philosophy," he said, "has always been, 'What difference does it make?' If you play every week, you're going to have bad days. I accept that. And you'll have your good days, too. I think that's why I have the reputation of playing well under pressure."

Except for Nicklaus, no man of the last quarter century has a gaudier reputation for ice water in the veins. That's because Floyd may be the best high-stakes gambler on earth. He'll clean out your pockets and your backers' pockets, then reach in his wallet to peel off a couple of Grovers so you can get yourself home in style. If you still have a home.

With the years, the Open mystery has deepened. Floyd is long and straight enough off the tee. He's fabulous in sand and always tops in putting stats, which measures the whole short game.

If you think others are perplexed, just ask Floyd. "The record speaks for iself. The Open hasn't been my cup of tea," he said this week after a second-round 68. "Even at the British Open, where I haven't won, I've been second twice and also third and fourth. I've contended.

"I've never even been in the hunt at the Open. It's either slow starts or slow finishes. I just haven't ever really played well. If I get close, I'll shoot 75 or 76 the last day.

"Honestly, I've tried to figure it out for years. I can't. I ask myself, 'Why don't you perform in the Open?' I wish to God I could figure out the answer because if I could, maybe I'd still have time to do something about it."

There is one possible explanation for his Open problems.

First, Floyd is both a precisionist and a bit of a sensualist. He loves golf because it can be practiced and perfected and because it's a gloriously pleasant way to earn a living. The U.S. Open is the one American event that removes both precision and pleasure from the game. Everybody's going to meet disaster and nobody's going to have much fun. If Floyd has one flaw, it's that he has little knack for the miracle recovery shot; it's just not in his bag.

The difference between Thursday and Friday here this week showed a lot about Floyd. "With the wind, rain and cold on Thursday, I had no feel. I was all bundled up, just trying to get back in without hurting myself. Then, on the fifth or sixth hole [Friday], the sun came out and I took my sweater off.

"Suddenly, my mind clicked in. I thought, 'It's golf. You better perform. It's here. There's a chance to express what we're trying to do out here.' "

Of all tournaments, the Open does the best job of slashing an artist's painting, of denying the expressionist a chance to create something beautiful. Floyd always has been the quintessential front-runner who never hands back the lead. He just finishes the masterpiece.

The Open won't even let him get the first brush strokes in place.

With the years, the Open has become a sort of fixation for Floyd. This is the one time each year he can't say, "What difference does it make?" And that is a huge burden for a man who always has loved to smell the flowers, taste the best food, kiss the prettiest women, build the most beautiful house on Biscayne Bay and, generally, revel in every minute of life as long as he can take his sweater off.

Last week at the Westchester Classic, the 43-year-old Floyd was tied for the lead entering Sunday's round. For one of the few times, he blew up with the cash on the table, shooting 77. "I wanted to win so badly that I wasn't Ray Floyd out there," he said this week. "I don't know when that's ever happened to me before."

Except at the Open.

Some athletes almost incorporate a whole view of life in their style of play. Floyd is one. His swing is syrupy and locked to his relaxed molasses temperament. He lets that right elbow fly at the top because he trusts life just like he trusts his swing. Let her rip; things always work out for the best, he seems to say.

If it doesn't happen this time, Raymond Floyd probably never will win the U.S. Open. Or finish second, third, fourth or fifth, either.

But, when you look at his whole life, his whole career, you tend to agree with the man himself.

What difference does it make?