Rory McIlroy two behind leader Bubba Watson after day three at Riviera
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 21/02/16 8:08pm
Rory McIlroy is just two shots off the lead heading into the final round of the Northern Trust Open as Bubba Watson emerged at the top of a congested leaderboard.
McIlroy cruised home in 33 to return a four-under 67, which he capped with a superb par save from just inside 20 feet at the last to keep him at 10 under on his debut at the Riviera Country Club.
Watson also fired a 67 and got up and down from the same spot near the grandstand at the 18th, and the 2014 champion enjoys a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, Chez Reavie and overnight leader Jason Kokrak.
The left-hander birdied the first and fourth before giving a shot back following a wild drive at the eighth, but he got back on track with birdies at 11 and 13 and added another at the 17th as he converted a sublime pitch from the greenside rough.
After hitting a cameraman with his blocked drive at the last, Watson pulled his second left of the target before clipping another delightful chip to two feet to ensure he remained at 12 under for the tournament.
"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 afterwards.
Johnson birdied three of the first five holes, but he pulled a number of shots left after the turn and did well to scramble home in 36 to complete a 68, while Kokrak mixed four birdies with three bogeys in his battling 70.
Reavie looked on course to claim the 54-hole lead when he turned in 33 and then made a superb eagle-two at the 10th, where he nailed a 33-foot putt from the front fringe.
But the American, whose only PGA Tour win came at the RBC Canadian Open in 2008, dropped back-to-back shots at 14 and 15 and parred in to card a 69.
McIlroy made an uncertain start as he three-putted the first green, but he knocked a pure 196-yard approach to four feet at the next and rolled in the putt only to give the shot straight back when he missed the green at the third and could not get up and down.
The world No 3 replied with a birdie at the short sixth, and he did well to scramble pars at the next two holes before another brilliant up-and-down from sand at the 10th earned him a third birdie of the day.
McIlroy picked up further shots at 15 and 17 either side of a missed chance from seven feet at the 16th, and he saved his best putt of the round for the last to remain in a share of fifth alongside Kevin Chappell, KJ Choi, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman.
Phoenix winner Hideki Matsuyama is a further stroke adrift after he failed to build on birdies at each of the opening three holes, while Justin Rose recovered from an outward 36 with four birdies on the back nine as he salvaged a 69 which lifted him to seven under par.