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.