Let's make one thing perfectly clear. When George Burns played golf for the University of Maryland in the early 1970s, he was not sole captain of the team. He was cocaptain along with Billy Calfee and Rick Bendall. "Those guys were better than me," said Burns, who made eight birdies in 32 holes yesterday at Avenel and is close to the lead in the Kemper Open.

Burns was a 7 a.m. dewsweeper yesterday, resuming a rain-interrupted first round on his fifth hole (No. 14), which he promptly birdied. He finished his first round in 69, then shot 67 for his second round in the afternoon. On his fourth hole of the afternoon, Burns, a master of the short game, holed an "impossible" shot for birdie from a greenside bunker. "That gave me the lift," he said.

On the following hole, his drive found a bare, hard-pan lie, but he hit the green with his second shot and made a 30-foot birdie putt. He had a chance for another birdie at his finishing hole, after hitting a 4-iron second shot six feet from the hole, but he missed the putt. The 32-hole marathon was over, with Burns in good position.

"Well, it was a long day," said Burns, 37, who grew up in Manhasset, N.Y., and now lives in Delray Beach, Fla. "It's been cool, and hot. A real long day."

With Burns, you never know. One year in the Kemper at Congressional, he followed a 64 with a 77. "Consistency has really been my Achilles' heel, and I've had a hard time achieving it," added Burns, who said he has worked with such well-known teachers as Bob Toski, Jim Flick and Ken Venturi.

But the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Burns needs little instruction on the short game.

"I grew up at a course on Long Island {Plandome Country Club}. It didn't have a driving range, so I spent a lot of the time in a bunker, and around the putting green," he explained.

Burns tried out as an offensive lineman when Bob Ward was the Maryland football coach. "After two weeks, I decided it wasn't for me," he said. But he went on a diet, trimmed from 220 pounds to 195 and tried out the following spring under Roy Lester. "He said I was too small and too slow."

That drove Burns to Maryland's golf course and he whittled his 7 handicap under Frank Cronin, who this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, is being inducted into the college golf coaches hall of fame.

"I owe him quite a bit," said Burns, whose victory at San Diego this season was the fourth of his career. "It might be a surprise to Cronin to see me do this well. Guys were better than me at Maryland, but not now. I've worked hard."

Gary Marlowe of Rockville, in completing his rain-delayed first round, was in good shape after a front-nine 32, but faded on the back nine and ended at par 71.

After a break, Marlowe shot himself out of the tournament in his second round, finishing on the par-3 ninth hole with quintuple-bogey 8 for an 83.

"I had it going good," said Marlowe. "I can't believe I let it slip away like that." That was after his morning round. Then it really went . . .

Woody FitzHugh of Great Falls added 74 to an opening 72 and likely will miss the cut. Larry Ringer, Naval Academy coach and Middle Atlantic PGA champion, and former Frederick, Md., pro Donnie Hammond appeared to be the only local players who had not finished by dark wih a chance to make this morning's cut. Ringer was 1 over par for 30 holes. Hammond was 1 over par for 32 holes.

Other area players: Webb Heintzelman, 6 over, 32 holes; amateur Marty West, 11 over, 31 holes; Glenn Brown, 12 over, 30; Denny Dennis, 15 over, 32; Bob Bowes, 21 over, 30. The 36-hole cut likely will likely be at or just above par 142.

Bill Israelson of Bemidji, Minn., learned of the trouble lurking at Avenel. At 67 after completing his first round in the morning, Israelson followed with a 13-over-par 84 and went down the road . . .

Mark Calcavecchia (78), Jim Simons (78), Charles Coody (77) and Hubert Green (76) withdrew.

The par-3 third hole, the one Arnold Palmer aced on consecutive days last fall, is playing considerably longer for the Kemper pros, and they are having trouble with it. When Palmer made his holes-in-one, it played at about 185 yards. Yesterday it was set at 190 yards and Thursday at close to 250, and pros were hitting fairway woods into it. The hole is spewing out bogeys and the pros are averaging 3.19 strokes on it.