PACIFIC PALISADES (California) • Former champion Bubba Watson birdied three of the last eight holes and conjured a brilliant up-and-down on the 18th to move one stroke clear of a congested leader board in golf's Northern Trust Open third round on Saturday.
The American left-hander used his booming length off the tee and his creativity around the greens to good advantage, as he fired a four-under 67 at a sun-splashed Riviera Country Club, a venue he has always relished playing at.
Champion here in 2014, he mixed five birdies with a lone bogey on a firm and fast-running layout to post a 12-under total of 201, one better than fellow Americans Dustin Johnson (68), Chez Reavie (69) and Jason Kokrak (70), the overnight leader.
Rory McIlroy (67) was a further stroke back at 203, level with Australians Adam Scott (67) and Marc Leishman (68), South Korean K.J. Choi (67) and American Kevin Chappell (66), to set up the prospect of a thrilling shoot-out in the final round.
"We all feel good about our chances, even the guy that's five (shots) back," the 37-year-old twice Masters champion Watson said, after covering his back nine in 33. "I'm going to go out and try to do the same thing, keep my head down... slow it down and hopefully it works out with one or two pars and one or two birdies giving me the victory."
He seized the outright lead with birdies at the 11th, 13th and 17th and maintained it with a clutch up-and-down at the par-four last.
After missing the fairway off the tee, his second shot ended up under an electronic scoreboard below the green to the right, from where he hit a superb lob wedge to within three feet of the pin.
Long-hitting Johnson, a runner-up at Riviera for the last two years, was one of five players who held at least a share of the lead during the third round before winding up with a five-birdie 68.
"I'm definitely happy with my position," said the nine-time PGA Tour winner.