By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The last two events Charl Schwartzel played on the European Tour he shot a combined 44 under, winning one by 12 and finishing second in the other. Oh, and there was that 11-stroke victory in Thailand, too.
So seeing the South African contending in his 2013 PGA TOUR debut at the Northern Trust Open shouldn't exactly surprise anyone.
"I've had a good run and been consistent, just see if we can keep going with it," Schwartzel said simply.
Granted, Riviera Country Club hasn't been quite as generous to Schwartzel -- or anyone else in the field, for that matter. But he'll start the final round in the final group in a three-way tie for second with Webb Simpson and John Merrick, three strokes behind front-running Bill Haas.
Schwartzel shot his 11th consecutive round in the 60s on Saturday, posting a 68 to move to 9 under for the week. Given how firm and fast Riviera has become the 2011 Masters champ was quite pleased after making five birdies and dropping just two strokes to par.
"It was a lot tougher today than the other days," Schwartzel said. "The course firmed up a lot. The greens are getting firm and bouncy, and it becomes hard to get the ball close to make birdies and even to keep the bogeys off the card. You need to be on song with your whole game."
And make no mistake -- Schwartzel, who is playing in the Northern Trust Open for the first time, knows he's hitting on all cylinders right now. So expect the veteran to play smart and take advantage of the opportunities he's afforded Sunday as he seeks his second PGA TOUR win.
"The way I'm playing, I don't think I'll change anything," Schwartzel said. "I'll just keep going along, and like I said, the course is tough, and it's easy to make mistakes. We'll see. If I can keep giving myself chances, I'm bound to shoot a decent score, and we'll see what Bill does."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick grew up about 40 minutes away from Riviera Country Club. He still lives in Long Beach, too, but he knows enough about the traffic on the 405 to ditch the commute and stay in Santa Monica this week during the Northern Trust Open.
Not to mention. Merrick attended UCLA, which is about 15 minutes from the fabled course that once boasted the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Peter Falk and Katherine Hepburn among its star-studded roster of members. So could there be any other place more apropos for him to pick up his first PGA TOUR victory in his seventh year as a member?
Merrick has certainly put himself in prime position, too, after Saturday's 70 left him tied for second at 9 under, three strokes behind Bill Haas.
"I saw some UCLA cheerleaders out there, pretty psyched," Merrick said. "Got a lot of support out there from fans and friends and family coming up from Long Beach. So it was a good time."
Merrick opened the third round with a bang, too -- making a 6-foot eagle putt at the first hole. He gave those shots back, though, with bogeys on the next two holes and made the turn 1 over for the day after another on No. 8.
A second eagle, this time courtesy of a 46-foot putt, at the 11th hole got Merrick back into red numbers. He got up and down from the greenside bunker at the 17th hole, the final par 5, to briefly get within two shots of Haas before giving it back when he missed the 18th green and couldn't save par.
"I'll take it," Merrick said. "I played the par 5s great. You're going to have to make a lot of putts out here because you're not going to hit every green. You know you're going to be chipping and you have to make those putts inside ten feet. But I was generally happy with the day."
Merrick, who hit eight fairways and 10 greens in regulation on Saturday, liked the way he hung in as the course toughened up. He knows he'll have to be aggressive to catch Haas but he'll be cautious at the same time.
"You really need to pick your spots here, definitely," Merrick said. "You can't shoot at every flag, and that's kind of one of those things around here, it just baits you into being more aggressive than you need and you need to putt well obviously."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Both Webb Simpson and Bill Haas played at Wake Forest but they missed being teammates by a year.
Once Simpson got out on the PGA TOUR, though, Haas became quite an ally and a good friend. They've played practice rounds together and talked strategy on the course. He's given Simpson the skinny on hotels, airports and restaurants. too.
"All those things that a rookie needs to figure out, he was there for me," Simpson said. "He's one of those guys that I feel like when I do play well, he's really happy for me. It's pretty competitive out here. (He) just compliments me a lot, so I think just shows what kind of person he is."
On Sunday at Riviera, the two play together once again -- only this time Haas and Simpson will tee it up in the final group with the Northern Trust Open title on the line.
Haas has the edge after building a three-stroke lead with a third-round 64 that Simpson deemed "incredible" given the firm and fast conditions. Simpson is tied for second with Charl Schwartzel and John Merrick at 9 under after shooting a 68.
"How will it affect me?" Simpson said. "I mean, I play with my friends all the time out here so I don't think it will affect me one way or the other. I love playing with guys that I can have conversations with and have a good time. So it will be fun."
Simpson likened the conditions on the back nine Saturday to a U.S. Open, and he knows better than most after winning last year's national championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. He says Riviera's undulating greens are particularly challenging and the key Sunday will be leaving the ball on the right spots on the putting surfaces.
"Certain courses, you have a 20-footer, you're trying to make it," Simpson said. "Out here, it's more I'm trying to leave it around the hole and if it goes in, it goes in. This poa annua, it gets a little bumpy late in the day. You have to do a good job of putting it in the fairway and your approach shots of keeping it under the hole."
Simpson says the man he calls his "big brother" is certainly in the driver's seat as the final round begins under what's expected to be sunny skies and cooler temperatures falling about 15 degrees back in the mid-60s. But Haas showed everyone a low round is out there so Simpson knows there's hope.
"Whoever is going to win the golf tournament tomorrow is going to go out and play a really good, solid round," he said. "It is going to be a little more difficult for the guys behind Bill to make a charge and try to play aggressively with how firm everything is. ...
"I think Bill is in a position, if he keeps a three-shot lead and goes and plays well again, it's going to be hard to catch him. But with the golf course this tricky, and you get a guy that has a good front nine, I mean, he could be tied or even in the lead with nine to go. So I think anything can happen tomorrow."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- When Charlie Beljan got the text message on Friday night his heart started pounding.
Not to worry, though. The man who famously played through an anxiety attack to win the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic last November wasn't headed for another visit to the emergency room.
Beljan was just excited to find out he'd be playing with a pair of World Golf Hall of Famers -- Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els -- in the third round of the Northern Trust Open. And not only did he play with the two for the first time on Saturday, he shot the lowest score.
Not bad for a guy who was making his living on the Gateway Tour just 24 months ago.
"(I was) lucky enough last year to get on the PGA TOUR and to get a victory and to tee it up with Mr. Els and Mr. Mickelson and to have a day like I did is something that I'll never forget," Beljan said after signing for his 68. "(I) had them both sign my visor and I'll put it in a nice frame at home so I'll always have something to remember."
Beljan acknowleged Els, who shot 73, and Mickelson, who had a 72, likely aren't asked to sign a playing partner's visor too often -- unless, of course, it's after a pro-am round.
"But hey, I'll ask -- what's the worst they are going to tell me, is no?" Beljan said. "But no, it was very kind for them both to do that, and (I) appreciated it."
Beljan's round of 68 left him in a tie for seventh with Josh Teater at 7 under, trailing Bill Haas by five strokes. He got untracked on the back nine with three straight birdies to start before making a final one from 6 feet at the par-5 17th.
"I wish I could have had a few more putts drop but I've got a great chance tomorrow and look forward to it," Beljan said. "I could have birdied every hole on the back nine realistically without stretching it for making more than a 15- or 20-footer. These greens are tough, especially poa annua in the afternoon, that's how it goes.
"If you told me I was going to shoot 3 under par or if I was going to shoot even par, I would have been thrilled to death. I'm ecstatic, I'm happy, life's good."
Beljan, who is playing in the Northern Trust Open for the first time, has soaked up the atmosphere at Riviera. He loves looking at the old photos around the clubhouse and he says he's already booked a spot for his RV for next year.
"I can't wait to come back," Beljan said. "I'm fortunate to be here and fortunate to have an opportunity like I did today, and to go ahead and beat those boys is something, it's just one day of golf. It was one great day."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- A year ago, Bill Haas faced a two-stroke deficit in the final round of the Northern Trust Open.
On Sunday, though, he'll be the hunted instead of the hunter as Haas takes a three-shot advantage into the final round of his title defense at venerable Riviera Country Club. The third-round 64 he shot tied for the low of the week and was three strokes better than anyone else in the field.
Haas knows Sunday won't be easy, though. He closed with a 67 a year ago and ended up beating Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, the overnight leaders, on the second hole of sudden death.
""(It's) very difficult in this game to just pull away from the rest of the field," he said. "You've only seen a few guys ever really do that. And those are guys like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson.
"So I think I've just got to try to stay in the moment, don't let my emotions get the best of me. ... The guys behind me are going to make birdies and it will certainly get closer at the top. So I've just got to try to hang in there and give myself a chance on the back nine."
Haas has completed 54 holes in 12 under which is three strokes ahead of another former Wake Forest All-American in Webb Simpson, who is the reigning U.S. Open champion; as well as the 2011 Masters champ, Charl Schwartzel, and former UCLA standout John Merrick.
Simpson and Schwartzel both shot 68s on Saturday while Merrick, who is from Long Beach, bogeyed the last hole for a 70.
"Bill shooting 7 under is incredible out there," Simpson said. "I mean, it was very tough. I felt like my 3 under was pretty good."
World No. 3 Luke Donald and overnight co-leader Fredrik Jacobson are tied for fifth at 8 under. Donald, who is playing in his first tournament of 2013, shot 70 on Saturday while Jacobson had a 72.
Haas will be seeking to join Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Paul Harney, Mike Weir, Corey Pavin and Phil Mickelson in winning back-to-back at Riviera. The 30-year-old, who won the 2011 FedExCup, is looking to win for the fifth time in his career -- as well as for the fourth straight season.
Haas, who tied for ninth and fifth in his last two starts, hasn't made a bogey since his 14th hole on Thursday. He has played his last 40 holes in 11 under, making nine birdies and an eagle Saturday at the driveable par-4 10th.
"I made some great up-and-downs to keep things going and the chip-in at 10 was a nice bonus," Haas said.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Fredrick Jacobson has recovered the two strokes he squandered with that double bogey at the fifth hole.
The Swede got up and down from the left side of the 10th hole, sinking a 5-footer for birdie, and then added a 12-inch birdie putt on the 11th hole after a pin-point wedge. Jacobson is now tied for second with playing partner John Merrick at 9 under, two strokes behind Bill Haas.
Webb Simpson, Charl Schwartzel and Sang-moon Bae, who was tied for the overnight lead with Jacobson, are 8 under. Bae is 1 over for 11 holes while Simpson and Schwartzel are 2 under through 12 and 11, respectively.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The 10th hole at Riviera Country Club has been pretty good to Bill Haas.
He just chipped in from 57 feet for eagle at the driveable par 4 to open a two-stroke lead midway during the third round of the Northern Trust Open. A year ago Haas drained a 40-footer for birdie there to beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on the second hole of sudden death.
Haas' eagle was the third of the day at No. 10, which is playing to 286 yards today, and the fourth of the tournament. He's now 10 under and two strokes ahead of Charl Schwartzel.
Josh Teater, Webb Simpson, Sang-moon Bae, Fredrik Jacobson and John Merrick are tied for third at 7 under while Sergio Garcia is alone at 7 under.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Defending champion Bill Haas made a 26-footer at the ninth hole to move into a tie for the lead at the Northern Trust Open.
He's 8 under and tied with Charl Schwartzel and John Merrick at the top of a tightly bunched leaderboard. Schwartzel is 2 under through seven holes while Merrick, the UCLA product and Long Beach resident, eagled the first hole but bogeyed his next two and is even for the day.
The overnight co-leaders, Sang-moon Bae and Fredrik Jacobson, are one stroke off the pace now and tied with Josh Teater and Webb Simpson. Bae has bogeyed his last two holes while Jacobson gave two strokes back at the fifth hole. Teater, meanwhile, is 3 under through 10 holes while Simpson is 1 under through eight.
Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, the two players Haas beat in last year's playoff, are among a big group tied at 4 under.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Webb Simpson and Charl Schwartzel are applying pressure on Saturday during the third round of the Northern Trust Open.
Playing in successive groups, the reigning U.S. Open champion and the 2011 Masters winner have made two birdies in their first six holes to get to 8 under and pull within a stroke of Sang-moon Bae.
Fredrik Jacobson, who was tied with Bae, had his problems on the fifth hole when his drive landed on the side of a hill in deep rough. He took one swipe at the ball and didn't advance it, eventually reaching the green in four and lipping out a 34-footer for bogey.
Defending champion Bill Haas is on the move, as well. He's made two birdies in his first eight holes and is tied at 7 under.