If he had been putting up to his usual high standard, Raymond Floyd could have all but locked up the U.S. Senior Open.

Yet, despite taking 32 putts in Saturday's third round, he increased his lead by one stroke.Attempting to become the third player in the 19-year history of the event to lead from start to finish, Floyd carded a 2-over-par 73 in the third round for a 54-hole score of even-par 213 and a three-shot advantage.

"I'm very pleased to be here leading the tournament, but I felt I should have had a wider margin," Floyd said. "I missed a lot of putts I should have made. I just have to keep doing what I've been doing, and that's hit the ball solid.

"My trouble has been on the greens, but I'm not in too bad a shape here."

He certainly isn't, despite needing three putts on the final hole for a bogey-5 that prevented him from leading by four shots.

Tied for second place at 216 were Hale Irwin, who overcame three bogeys on the first five holes for a 71; and Dave Stockton and Isao Aoki, who each had 73s.

Irwin, the senior tour earnings leader who rebounded from a 77 in the first round to shoot a 3-under-par 68 in the second, got close by chipping in from off the green on the final hole for a birdie-3.

"The chip was a bonus by anybody's standards," Irwin said. "That salvaged what looked to be a disastrous day."

Floyd would have been the only player under par through three rounds on the rugged 6,906-yard, par-71 Riviera course and its barbed wire-like kikuyu grass had it not been for his bogey on No. 18.

Earlier, the 55-year-old Floyd had to do some scrambling, saving par on several holes with long putts, including one of over 30 feet on the fourth hole, and fine approach shots like one out of the bunker to within tap-in range on No. 12.

Floyd, who had 1-under-par 70s in each of the first two rounds for a two-shot lead, bogeyed the second hole, parred the third, and bogeyed the 14th and 18th.

"I would have been under par if I handled the greens at all," he said.

As far as the final round is concerned, Floyd said he isn't concerned about the other players.

"I've got to go play the golf course and handle me," he said. "My chore will be Raymond Floyd and Riviera. If Hale has a fine round, he'll be hard to beat."

In his senior career, when leading or tied for the lead entering the final round, Floyd has won seven of 10 tournaments.

Irwin appeared out of contention after a 38 on the front nine, but he had three birdies and six pars on the back for a 3-under-par 33.

`The course is exposing the weakness in all our games," Irwin said. "I've really got my hands full with my game. I can't control what Raymond does or Gil (Morgan) does."

Three players enter the final round four shots off the pace at 217 - Tom Jenkins, who had a 71 in the third round; Hugh Baiocchi, who had a 73, and club pro Roy Vucinich, who had a 75.

Next at 218 were Ed Dougherty, who had a 70; Morgan, who had a 73, and Vicente Fernandez, who had a 74.

Five players, including Jim Colbert and Bruce Summerhays, were at 219, and four, including Frank Conner and John Mahaffey, were at 220.

Conner's 68 was the low round Saturday and tied Irwin's second-round score as the best in the tournament so far.

Jack Nicklaus, six strokes back at the beginning of the third round, shot himself out of contention with a 79 - his worst round as a senior, and his highest in an official tournament on tour since he had an 81 in the second round of the 1995 U.S. Open.

That gave the 58-year-old Nicklaus a 225 total.

Nicklaus suffered a disastrous stretch early in his round, getting a triple-bogey 7 on the third hole and bogeys on each of the next three.

"I made a 7, I missed a short putt for a 6, just made 7," Nicklaus said when asked about the third hole. "I hit it in the rough - don't think I've ever had that bad a lie.

"Obviously, I shot myself out of the tournament in the first six holes. It's disappointing, of course it is. It was just one of those days. I've played poorly before; we'll survive it. It's only a game."

Asked about his arthritic left hip, which has been causing him pain, Nicklaus replied, "It's all right."

DIVOTS: Floyd, in search of his first tournament victory since the 1996 Ford Senior Players Championship, is trying to become the seventh golfer to win both the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open. Accomplishing that feat previously were Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Orville Moody, Billy Casper, Gary Player and Lee Trevino. . . . Floyd is also trying to join Nicklaus as the only players to win all four senior majors . . . Irwin is also trying to become a winner of both Opens. He has won three U.S. Opens, but has come up empty in three previous Senior Opens, tying for fifth twice along with a second-place finish two years ago. . . . The Senior Open winner will earn $267,500 from a purse of $1.5 million. . . . If two or more players tie for first place Sunday, an 18-hole playoff will be held Monday. . . . Larry Ziegler was disqualified after completing his third round for purposely signing an incorrect scorecard. He scored nine on the final hole, but signed for a 12. Ziegler had carded a 17-over-par 88 before his disqualification, giving him a 54-hole score of 242. . . . Arnold Palmer, who won the second Senior Open in 1981, carded a 75 on Saturday to put him at 229.