Bubba Watson shoots 67, leads by 1 at Northern Trust Open

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
Bubba Watson shoots 67, leads by 1 at Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Bubba Watson saved par from near a concession stand to the right and down the hill from the 18th green Saturday at Riviera and shot a 4-under 67 to build a one-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open.

Watson will be going for his second victory in three years at Riviera.

There is no shortage of stars trying to catch him. The 10 players within three shots of the lead include Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama.

"Knowing that I've won here and knowing that I can play around here, obviously I have a little bit of an advantage on the guy that probably hasn't won here," Watson said.

He was at 12-under 201, one shot ahead of Johnson, Jason Kokrak and Chez Reavie.

Kokrak, the 36-hole leader, made three birdies on the back nine to salvage a 70 and remain in the final group. Reavie had a three-shot lead at one point on the back nine, courtesy of a perfectly placed drive that led to eagle on No. 2. But he missed a pair of 8-foot par putts on consecutive holes and had to settle for a 69.

For all the birdies, the final round was shaped largely by pars on the 18th hole.

McIlroy, making his debut at Riviera, made three birdies on the back nine to reach 10 under when he pushed his tee shot too far right on the 18th for the second straight day. This time, he played too much of a fade around the eucalyptus trees, and it tumbled down the hill next to the concessions stand. His chip raced by the hole, leaving a downhill par putt form 18 feet that he made for par.

"That's one of the loudest cheers I've had in a while," McIlroy said. "It would be nice to hear something like that again tomorrow."

He shot 67 and was two shots behind, a group that included Scott (67), UCLA alum Kevin Chappell (66), the resurgent K.J. Choi (67) and Marc Leishman (68).

Watson's par from about the same area was even better.

Watson took the lead with a simple up-and-down from just short of the par-5 17th, but from the left rough, he hooked his approach down the hill on the 18th. He was able to clip the ball perfectly, and it checked up just 3 feet above the hole.

"The joke was when I got on the green ... I said, `Who cares about the shot? I've got to make this par putt or it's not worth anything,'" Watson said. "That was the toughest part because nobody expected me to hit the shot that good, and then everybody expects you to make the putt. Would be kind of lost if I missed that putt."

Matsuyama, who won in Phoenix two weeks ago, made five birdies on the front nine to get into the mix, only to put four 5s on his card on the back nine. He shot 68 and was three shots behind, along with Troy Merritt (70).

It's still wide open, even with the experience at the top of Watson and Riviera, and the experience of winning anywhere by McIlroy, who's at No. 3 in the world.

"It's one of these golf courses, if you just stay around, hang in there and not make too many mistakes, stay patient, your time will come and it will present itself with a few opportunities," McIlroy said. "And thankfully on the back nine, I was able to take some of them."

Watson two years ago had a 64-64 weekend without a bogey, and he hopes to draw on that Sunday. He hit more fairways (10) on Saturday than the opening two rounds combined, though that's not important to him as long as he's missing in the right spot. Key to Watson is watching enough putts bounce in, and so far he's made just enough to be in the lead.

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.