Rain softened the course and led to improved scores yesterday in the U.S. Senior Open in West Des Moines, Iowa. But no one improved enough to catch Ed Dougherty, who came in with a 3-under-par 69 and opened a three-stroke lead midway through the event.

Dougherty, who led by two strokes Thursday, stood at 7-under 137 heading into the final two rounds of a tournament that has drawn massive crowds at the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.

Steady Dave Eichelberger was alone in second at 140 after a 69 that included just one bogey. Leonard Thompson, Gil Morgan and Bob Duval were next at 141. Thompson and Duval shot 68s, the best rounds of the day, and Morgan had a 71.

Dougherty won only once on the PGA Tour and has yet to win as a senior. "I'm just playing golf," he said. "If I had the answers, I would have done it 25 years ago, I'll tell you that. I just tried to relax and enjoy the day."

Dougherty's second straight solid round came on a day spiced by a hole-in-one and Arnold Palmer wondering aloud about his golfing future after missing the cut in the Senior Open for the first time since 1991.

Palmer shot an 84 after opening with an 81. The 84 included a two-stroke penalty for an improper putting stance and gave him his worst score in the Senior Open.

"This is terrible, the last two days," Palmer said. "I don't know that I will play much more competition like this. I may play a few tournaments, a Masters or something like that. But unless I start hitting it a lot better in Latrobe, [Pa., his home] I am not going to take it anywhere else."

Palmer, 69, said that while he was unhappy with how he played, "I am not saying I am not going to play again, either." He said he will probably play in next year's Senior Open at Saucon Valley in his home state of Pennsylvania, and is committed to a senior event in Boston next month.

Hank Cooper, an insurance agent from Sanger, Tex., nailed the hole-in-one, hitting a one-hopper into the cup with a 4-iron on No. 3, a 172-yard par-3.

PGA: With his game in perspective and a dear friend on the mend, John Maginnes is playing some of the best golf of his life.

After taking the tournament lead with a 7-under-par 64 in the second round of the Greater Milwaukee Open, Maginnes headed down the freeway to see his longtime caddie. Garland Dempsey is recovering in a Chicago area hospital after collapsing during last week's Western Open.

Maginnes holds a one-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly and Carlos Franco, but is more concerned about the man who first began carrying his bag in 1992 on the Nike Tour.

"Golf is where I went when my father died," he said. "It's where my world is. . . . [And] it's where Gar wants me to be right now."

Patrick Fitzgerald, an ABC spotter and former caddie, took up Maginnes' bag for the Western Open and is working for him this week.

LPGA: Lisa Kiggens, winless since her only tour victory in 1994, admits to feeling a little self-imposed pressure after gaining the lead in the Michelob Light Classic in St. Louis. "Hey, I'm just glad to make the cut," Kiggens joked after a 6-under 66 for a 135 total. She finished one stroke up on Tina Barrett, Thursday's leader, and Nancy Scranton.

EUROPEAN PGA: Defending champion Lee Westwood charged into the lead with a third-round 67 at Loch Lomond in Glasgow, Scotland, as Sergio Garcia faltered. The 19-year-old Spaniard, who fired an opening-round 62 Wednesday, carded four bogeys in a round of par 71.

BRITISH OPEN: Fred Couples and Steve Jones became the latest American golfers to pull out of next week's British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland. Couples gave no reason for his withdrawal and Jones said he was not well.

CAPTION: A PGA Tour winner once, Ed Dougherty is halfway to 1st senior title. "If I had the answers, I would have done it 25 years ago, I'll tell you that," he said.