As he kept draining birdie putt after birdie putt yesterday during the third round of the Kemper Open -- three on the front nine and four on the first six holes of the back nine -- increasing numbers of fans joined his gallery, and many asked a reasonable question: Just who is Emlyn Aubrey?

"Is he any good?" a youngster asked his father near the 16th green.

Aubrey was magnificent to that point, 7 under par after getting up and down for par from greenside rough thick enough to hide small animals. A birdie and a par over the last two holes and Aubrey would tie the course record at TPC at Avenel.

But Aubrey, 35, has struggled as much as most pro golfers. Off and on the PGA Tour the last 10 years, only once higher than 126th on the money list and lower than 165th five times. A native of Reading, Pa., who attended LSU, he also dabbles in auto racing and thus is familiar with what started to happen on the 17th tee -- a modest crash.

"Bad course management," he said. "Instead of playing for the middle of the green I tried to be a hero and hit it close."

Aubrey pulled his mid-iron on the 195-yard par-3 and was fairly lucky to make bogey. Another bogey at 18 -- when the wind helped push a hooking approach shot into a greenside bunker and a 10-footer for par spun out -- left him disappointed but in fourth place going into today's final round.

His 66 tied for low round of the day, and when halfway leader Rich Beem collapsed on the back nine, Aubrey was within three shots of co-leaders Beem and Tommy Armour III.

"If somebody had said before the round that I'd shoot 5 under, I'd have been real happy," said Aubrey, whose daughter, Adelayde, 3, sat with him during his post-round news conference. "But you never shoot low enough."

Until those late mistakes, Aubrey had treated Avenel as a dart board, flying approaches to within easy birdie range. His longest birdie putts, two of them, were 10 feet. Four were from five feet or less.

Aubrey is 119th on the money list this season. But $96,750 of his $148,700 came two weeks ago in the Byron Nelson Classic, when he shot 64-69-69-69 and tied for seventh.

As happens often, Aubrey's problems yesterday started before they became evident on his scorecard. The overall problem: "I got a little nervous, a little anxious. My mind started going haywire a little bit."

On the 467-yard, par-4 No. 15, Aubrey sprayed his drive into the right rough. But he guessed just right on a 6-iron approach and hit it within six feet. That set up his seventh birdie of the round -- and his last. He got relief from a cart path on No. 16 after pushing another drive right -- and again guessed correctly on a par-saving pitch from the greenside rough that rolled to about 11 feet.

Aubrey has had his moments in golf's brightest spotlight -- he was among the top 10 at the halfway point of the 1996 U.S. Open and tied for second later that year at the Greater Vancouver Open. He made the PGA Tour full-time this year by finishing 13th on the Nike Tour last season.

However, a look at Aubrey's bag suggests life has not been good lately. There is no large corporate logo. The only ads are tiny ones, for Belding Sports and for Barton Creek Country Club, a resort in Austin. Barton Creek gives him a membership, he said, in return for providing lessons to its members.

"I'm still working on the companies," he said.

Holding that top-four position today would be very helpful.

"I know what I did wrong," he said. "I'm playing well, thinking well. Hopefully, I can do the same tomorrow."

CAPTION: Unheralded Emlyn Aubrey -- who gives lessons to keep his Austin club membership -- waves to his growing gallery after tying for day's best round.