Bubba Watson leads by 1 at Riviera

By Art Spander, The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 21, 2016 at 4:17 AM
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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- One moment Jason Kokrak was in front of the Northern Trust Open. Then it was Chez Reavie. When the third round came to a close, it was Bubba Watson.

Two-time Masters champion Watson, who won this tournament in 2014, shot a 4-under par 67 on Saturday at Riviera Country Club to take a one-stroke lead over Kokrak (70), Reavie (69) and Dustin Johnson (68) with a 54-hole total of 12-under 201.

Kevin Chappell, who played to UCLA about four miles east of the course, posted a 66 that lifted him to within two shots of the lead in a tie for fifth with third-ranked Rory McIlroy (67), Adam Scott (67), K.J. Choi (67) and Marc Leishman (68).

There were 12 players within four strokes of the lead.

Watson was behind by as many as four strokes on the back nine.

After a bogey at No. 8, DJ was 9-under, with Reavie at 13-under and Kokrak, the overnight leader, at 10-under. However, Reavie bogied Nos. 14 and 15, Kokrak bogied No. 15 and Watson birdied Nos. 11, 13 and 17.

"I feel good," Watson said. "On Friday they said I only hit two fairways, and that's not good, but it's about angles, not about hitting the fairways. You can miss the fairway here, as long as you do it on the (correct) side.

"Putting is always the key for me and I made a lot of putts today. I got out of trouble and made some putts. ... I have a one-stroke lead, so I can mess up once and still be tied for the lead. I have to make birdies tomorrow, the way I did two years ago, when it was a shootout."

When he con here two years ago, Watson went 64-64 in the last two rounds making the cut on the number.

"It wasn't about being aggressive," Bubba said. "It was just that the numbers were right, the wind was right."

Riviera is located in canyon about a mile from the ocean, and afternoon wind is a constant, both toying with balls in the air and keeping temperatures cool -- it was in the mid 60s with bright sunshine on Saturday.

In what might have been a first, Watson, who can be uncooperative at times, refused to come to the media tent because he said he was headed for the Golden State Warriors-Los Angeles Clippers NBA game at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Watson did speak briefly in a room at the clubhouse, up a hill from the 18th green before departing, saying: "I'm very happy. Any day you can shoot under par around this golf course -- the last few days have been good. It's all about the steadiness on the greens. Working really hard to be sure I don't lose anything from three-feet and in because you can easily do it here. Can easily bounce one way or the other if you lose a little focus."

Asked about Sunday, Watson offered a quick burst of honesty.

"As my ego is, we all feel good about our chances, even the guy that's five back," Watson said. "For me, yeah, I'm going to go out and try to do the same thing, keep my head down, try to take deep breaths and try to slow it down and hopefully it works out with one or two pars and one or two birdies gives me the victory."

Johnson was in a playoff at last year's tournament, losing to James Hahn -- who missed the cut this time -- on the third extra hole after finishing second to Watson in 2014.

"I'm definitely happy with my position in the tournament," Johnson said. "For three rounds I've played pretty solid. I've bounced back with a birdie after making a bogey."

"Somebody's going to shoot low (Sunday). There are so many great players up on the leaderboard that are within a couple shots of the lead. ... The golf course is just perfect."

Reavie led the AT&T with a 63 in the first round, but shot a 77 the final round to tie for 26th. Saturday he was doing well until the consecutive bogies knocked him down.

That came after he briefly had taken the lead with a 33-foot putt from off the green for an eagle two on the sometimes perplexing, 305-yard par-four 10th.

"For me today, 10 was kind of perfect," said Reavie. "I don't hit it as far as those guys (Watson, Johnson and McIlroy). They were kind of between clubs, but since it was into the wind a little bit I could hit a driver. ... Kind of a lucky bounce there."

McIlroy, playing Riviera for the first time, normally starts his American schedule in Florida. But he wanted to challenge "Hogan's Alley," of which he's read and heard about.

That appears to be a smart decision, since he's only two strokes back despite failing to birdie the 505-yard, par-five first, which is reachable easily in two by a long hitter such as McIlroy.

"I had 17 more holes," McIlroy said. "Long way to. I guess I rectified straight away with a birdie on the second, but anything under par on the front nine is a very good score."

The leaderboard heading in the final 18 holes offers major winners Watson, Scott and McIlroy, and top names such as Johnson and Choi. Not far back at 7-under are Justin Rose, winner of the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion, and Justin Leonard, winner of the 1997 British Open.

"I think quality courses produce a quality leaderboard," said0 McIlroy, who has won the Open Championship, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. "And you just have to look at the names up there."

This is exactly why he's at Riviera.

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