Lee Elder of Washington, a leading player on the Senior PGA Tour, suffered a heart attack last week but is expected to recover and rejoin the golf circuit early next year, his doctor and his wife said yesterday.

Elder, 53, was stricken as he slept during the middle of the night after finishing ninth in the Machado Classic at Key Biscayne, Fla., Nov. 22. He is hospitalized "in very stable condition" at the Humana Hospital in Cypress Point, Fla., and is expected to be released in about a week, Rose Elder said.

"He's doing well. He is {walking} and he's in good spirits," said Karan Munuswamy, a cardiovascular specialist who is treating Elder. "At this point his progress is good."

Rose Elder, who also serves as her husband's business manager, said he is aiming to be back on tour by late February or early March.

Elder, the first black to qualify for an invitation to play in the Masters (1975), has earned slightly less than $900,000 in 3 1/2 seasons on the Senior Tour.

Munuswamy said Elder's heart attack was "uncomplicated," in that it presented "no complications" or associated problems. The cardiologist said that until Elder undergoes another test in three to four weeks, "It's too premature to say when he'll be back. But there's a good chance he'll be back playing golf in seven or eight weeks."

Elder was unavailable for comment, but his wife said he plans to lose some weight and will give up cigarettes, which he has smoked for most of his life.