BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The 13th annual U.S. Senior Open looked for all the world like a typical U.S. Open -- give the field two days to weed out the weak and the faint-hearted, then drill the remaining players.
It happened at the recent U.S. Open, where early leader Gil Morgan ran into third-round disaster and it happened to Dave Stockton yesterday.
Of the top nine players on the leader board at the start of the third round at the Saucon Valley Country Club, only Al Geiberger was able to improve his second-round position.
Geiberger added an even-par 71 for a 54-hole total of 208 and in now one shot out of the lead.
Meanwhile, the lead went to Senior Tour player Larry Laoretti, a cigar-chomping former club pro playing four groups in front of Stockton.
A non-winner in his fourth tour season, Laoretti charged to the top of the heap with a 67 and a total of 207. It was the low round
on a day when the early leaders faltered, letting a crowd of players back into the tournament.
Chief among those who slipped was Stockton, who started the round three strokes ahead of the field -- seven ahead of Laoretti, who certainly didn't figure to be celebrating his 53rd birthday by being a third-round tournament leader for the first time.
Stockton swung the gate wide open when he made five bogeys in seven holes during the middle of the round. He righted himself with four straight pars to finish with 77 for the day and 210 for the tournament.
While Stockton headed for the practice green -- "I had two days where I made everything, and then nothing went in" -- Laoretti was saying, "I've been fighting a cold, but that red wine is gonna catch it tonight."
Laoretti finished with five birdies and a bogey and had the key to success: "I drove the ball really well, hit a lot of greens  and putted well [no 3-putts]."
The rest of the field wished it could say the same thing. Some said the course didn't play that difficult. Others said it was tough, but generally speaking, none offered excuses -- simply saying they hit a lot of bad shots.
Behind Laoretti and Geiberger, Gibby Gilbert shot 73 and stayed in the hunt at 209. The round ended a string of eight straight rounds in the 60s (and two tour victories) for Gilbert going back to June 14.
Although the leader board was rearranged a bit, the same names are still pretty much in contention -- the top three, plus Gary Player (71-210), Jim Colbert (73-210), Charles Coody (73-211) and Stockton. And don't count out defending champion Jack Nicklaus (75-213), who has made some brilliant last-round charges.
And, as Player said, "Nerves play an important part, especially when you're over 50. It's the one who controls his nerves under pressure who will win."
Moss Beecroft of Newport News, Va., a well-known figure in Middle Atlantic events, took a 10-stroke stranglehold on low-amateur honors, putting up a 1-under 70 for a total of 215.
The round included three birdies and two bogeys. Two-under through 16, he slipped a notch with a 3-putt bogey at the 17th. "I hit a 7-iron way right [at the 172-yard, par-3]. That was destined for a 3-putt.
"Overall, this was a great one for me -- a solid round," he said. "It was fun playing with John Brodie; he encouraged me all the way."
Beecroft, 62, a three-time Virginia State Amateur champion, was runner-up in the U.S. Senior Amateur last fall. This is his third -- and certain to be his best -- Senior Open. He tied for 52nd in 1986, and missed the cut in 1990.
NOTES: Jerry Barber matched his age with a 76. It followed rounds of 74 and 75 and marked the second straight year he has equaled or bettered his age in each of the first three rounds of the Senior Open. It was the eighth time Barber, a pro for 50 years, has done it, dating back to 1987 when he shot 69 and 71 at age 71. . . . One-time Baltimore area assistant pro Carl Lohren was one of several at 69 (214). . . . Two other former Baltimore pros limped home, as Dick Hendrickson, 57, one-time Mount Pleasant assistant before moving to the Philadelphia area, and eventually to the Senior Tour, had 73-222, and Dick Smith, who turned 50 last month, shot 78-226. Hendrickson is bothered by a sore right foot and Smith by a sore back. "Realistically, I guess I have to be pleased, but I didn't want to shoot what I shot today [yesterday]," Smith said. He had four 3-putts, including 16 and 17, and made triple bogey at 18. . . . Smith's older brother, Tom, is caddying for him. . . . Dick Goerlich, of Tampa, another former Baltimorean, had 80-229 for third low amateur (among four).