It was several months after a good showing in the 1985 Kemper Open at Congressional that Jim Nelford had his accident.

"I was water-skiing on Saguaro Lake, just outside Phoenix. I was in the water waiting for the guy in the boat {who had been pulling him} to pick me up. The guy ran over me."

The boat's propeller raked Nelford's right arm and broke it in nine places. It also tore the tendons leading to two fingers, damaged some nerves and ripped into his back. Still conscious, Nelford was taken by helicopter to a hospital and, after "countless" stitches, he spent four weeks in the hospital with an atrophied, dead-feeling arm. Playing golf was far from his mind.

"I'm very fortunate," Nelford said yesterday after making five birdies on his way to an opening-round 70 in the Kemper Open. "The arm could have been down at the bottom of the lake. Two inches farther and that propeller could have hit my head."

Before the accident, the onetime youth hockey player from Vancouver had made 30 straight cuts in PGA tournaments.

Now, after three major operations on the arm, which included the insertion of 13 screws and a steel plate, Nelford is coming back. He played three tournaments at the end of last season "to see where I was." Where he was, with arduous practice, was back on tour and playing pretty well.

This year, still feeling some pain, Nelford has made the 36-hole cut in three tournaments and "played a lot of solid rounds.

"My doctors are amazed at the progress," said Nelford, who hits the ball right-handed but putts left-handed.

Webb Heintzelman, who lives in Bethesda and is a teaching pro at Montgomery Village, bogeyed his final hole for 71 but still was best of the six local golfers who finished before the rain.

Heintzelman, last year's Middle Atlantic PGA player of the year who is in the Kemper with a sponsor's exemption, drove into the right fairway bunker on the par-4 18th hole, could not advance the ball far, hit a 7-iron third shot onto the green and two-putted for five.

Larry Ringer, golf coach at the Naval Academy, made birdies at the 14th and 16th holes and finished at 72. "The golf course played a little easier than I envisioned," said Ringer, the Middle Atlantic PGA titlist.

Other area players who finished before the rain: amateur Marty West, Columbia Country Club, 75; Denny Dennis, Congressional, 78; Glenn Brown, Westwood, 79.

Gary Marlowe of Rockville and Woody FitzHugh of Great Falls were on the course when rain halted play. Marlowe had just birdied the par-5 second hole when the siren sounded, and FitzHugh had made par on his opening hole, the par-4 10th.