Golf: Bubba Watson aims for second Northern Trust Open win in three tries

Golfer Bubba Watson at the Northern Trust Open golf tournament on Feb 20, 2016.
Golfer Bubba Watson at the Northern Trust Open golf tournament on Feb 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS/ USA TODAY SPORTS

PACIFIC PALISADES (AFP) - Bubba Watson fired a four-under 67 in Saturday's third round of the PGA Tour's Northern Trust Open to take a one-shot lead over three Americans, including Dustin Johnson, whom Watson edged out for the 2014 title.

Two-time Masters champion Watson seized the outright lead with a birdie at the 17th on the same Riviera Country Club course where he shot 64-64 on the weekend two years ago to beat Johnson by two strokes.

"I am very happy," Watson said. "It is all about the steadiness on the greens."

Johnson is tied for second with second-round leader Jason Kokrak, who shot a 70, and Chez Reavie, who had a 69.

Watson, ranked sixth in the world, finished 54 holes at 12-under 201.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, making his Pacific Palisades debut, and former world No. 1 Adam Scott of Australia, are part of a group of five tied for fifth at 10-under, just two strokes back. McIlroy and Scott both shot 67s.

Watson's best finish this season is a tie for 10th at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He stumbled at Pebble Beach last week in the third round and missed the 54-hole cut.

The third round has been a problem for Watson in his last three outings as he shot 73s in Maui and Phoenix and 74 at Pebble Beach.

But the 37-year-old from Florida is back on track this week and Riviera has been good to him in the past.

"This three-week stretch has been tough," he said. "There were lot of negative vibes out there.

"Pebble was very difficult because I haven't been there in so many years, so I pressed there. You get excited and you want to do so well.

"Phoenix I didn't make very many putts, Pebble I didn't make too many putts. But then around here, I haven't made too many mistakes around the greens."

After his birdie on No. 17, Watson got up and down on the 18th for par with a superb 100-foot chip from off the green that landed two feet from the cup.

"Nobody expected me to hit the shot that good," Watson said.

The shot drew a loud cheer from the huge gallery on the grassy hill overlooking the green at the 18th that was taking advantage of a clear-sky afternoon and warm temperatures.

"It is better than booing me," Watson joked. "I guess being a past champion here they respect that. They know you can play and they appreciate a past champion."