PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- A few observations following the third round of the Northern Trust Open, with Bubba Watson (12 under) leading by one stroke entering Sunday’s final round at Riviera. For more, click here to read the Daily Wrap-up.
BIG BOYS HAVE COME TO PLAY. Although the world’s top-ranked player, Jordan Spieth, failed to make the cut this week, several of his closest pursuers are in contention on a bunch-up leaderboard after 54 holes. Included among the 17 players who are within five shots of the lead held by Watson (6th in the Official World Golf Ranking) are Rory McIlroy (3rd), Justin Rose (7th), Dustin Johnson (8th), Hideki Matsuyama (12th) and Adam Scott (19th), a former No. 1 like McIlroy.
So what does that mean for Sunday?
“Somebody’s going to shoot low tomorrow,” said Johnson, just one off the lead. “There’s so many great players that are up on the leaderboard that are within a couple of shots of the lead. … I would guess 17-under, 16-under, somewhere around there would get it done.”
“It’s going to be a bit of a shootout tomorrow,” he said after his 67 moved him within two. “…There’s not really much you can do apart from try to play a solid round of golf and see where the chips fall at the end of the day.”
Watson, who won at Riviera two years ago by shooting two bogey-free 64s on the weekend, doesn’t care what he shoots on Sunday, just as long as it gets the job done.
“I don’t care if it’s an 80, if everybody else shoots 81,” he said. “You know what, I hope everybody ties me and they all shoot 80. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s about lifting the trophy.”
The outcome could also shake up the world rankings, too. Although Spieth will remain No. 1 no matter what, McIlroy could overtake Jason Day for No. 2 with a high finish. Watson could move inside the top five with a win.
Although there are plenty of big names in the mix, don’t forget about the others who are lurking. Second-round leader Jason Kokrak is built in the Watson/Johnson mode, a big hitter who’s thriving on this course. Chez Reavie has three rounds in the 60s and is just one of three players who’ve eagled the iconic par-4 10th this week.
With so many guys in the mix, Scott thinks if you’re not at least 3 under on the round after three holes, then you may be losing ground.
“I’m pretty sure one of these guys is going to have a good round,” Scott said, “so a good start is kind of imperative.”
Bubba Watson takes one-shot lead into Sunday at Northern Trust
BUBBA’S BUSY WEEK. In addition to grabbing the 54-hole lead, Watson has managed to work in a few extracurricular activities.
He taped an episode of the TV show, Girl Meets World, playing himself and even speaking one line. “I think it was myself,” he said. “I was holding a golf club.”
He attended Saturday’s Warriors-Clippers NBA game (he counts Clippers owner Steve Ballmer as a friend, and he’s also friends with the Clippers’ Chris Paul).
But the highlight, he said, came when 3-year-old son Caleb got to play drums with Justin Bieber.
“All he knows is he’s a singer and dancer,” Watson said. “He doesn’t know who he is. … But watching my son just react to him in a positive light, it was pretty neat.”
DUSTIN’S 17TH ISSUES. Thanks to his length, Johnson usually gobbles up par 5s, ranking in the top 10 for birdie or better this season.
But he’s been unable to figure out the 590-yard 17th this week, settling for par in the first three rounds.
A year ago, he birdied it twice, but in the final round, he suffered a bogey when he found the greenside bunker with a lob-wedge. “That was a great shot,” he deadpanned when recounting it Saturday.
Ultimately, the bogey cost him a chance to win outright, and he eventually lost in a playoff to finish runner-up at Riviera for the second consecutive year.
As for this week?
“Don’t feel like I’m playing it badly,” Johnson said of the 17th. “Just not making birdie.”
QUOTE OF THE DAYWe all know how big a deal it would be to win here at Riviera.
REAVIE THE PLOTTER. Watson, Kokrak, Johnson, McIlroy and Scott all rank among the top 10 in driving distance on TOUR. Reavie, who’s among them on the leaderboard, ranks in a tie for 116th.
He knows he must attack Riviera differently than the big hitters. But that doesn’t mean he’s at a disadvantage.
“It’s a ball-striker’s golf course,” he said. “Even though you have shorter irons in, you still have to hit them in the right spot.
“So that’s my advantage, is that I can hit more fairways and plot my way around.”
JUSTICE FOR PADDY. Five years ago, Padraig Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard after his ball inadvertently moved during a tournament in Abu Dhabi. The severity of the penalty came into question, and several months later, golf’s governing bodies adjusted the rules to provide less restrictive measures.
On his final hole Saturday, Harrington saw his ball move again while lining up a 15-foot birdie putt. He wasn’t about to take any chances, so he called in a rules official, who deemed that the ball was on a severe slope and inadvertently moved.
Thus, no penalty. Harrington then made the putt to finish off a bogey-free 66, tying for low round of the day. He’s at 6-under, in a tie for 19th.
“It wasn’t me that moved it,” Harrington said. “But I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Because I didn’t cause it move, it was play it as it lies.
“I was thinking I was going to get penalized but thankfully they changed the rule. I know they changed it because of me, so thankfully I saved myself a shot.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Bubba Watson makes incredible par save for the Shot of the Day
Guess who's just two back and will have the leaders in his sights on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/MxL8ePgekx— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 20, 2016
All eyes on Dustin. 👀 pic.twitter.com/IbxjAAfaRT— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 20, 2016
Thats why this year im not there! https://t.co/g9JBiKXDyT— Scott Piercy (@ScottPiercyPGA) February 19, 2016