Bubba Watson shot a third-round 6-under 65 and will take a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the Genesis Open.
Starting on Riviera’s front nine, Watson opened with an eagle on the par-5 first hole, and then reeled off four birdies over a five-hole stretch (Nos. 6-10) to secure the top billing around the turn.
Going home, Watson offset his lone bogey (No. 15) with a birdie on No. 17 to sign for a low-tournament score of 10-under 203.
“We guessed right on No. 1 today trying to get the right yardage, the right club for the wind and everything. It calms you down real fast when you tap in for eagle. You start out really hot, and so you just kind of use that momentum and go from there,” said Watson, who has hit 37 of 54 (68%) greens this week.
“Then making the putt following it up on No. 2 to save par, that just is a lot of momentum going forward.
“Knowing how difficult this golf course is, my whole thing was trying to hit greens, somehow just hang in there wherever I was.
“Then I chipped in, I started making putts and we were around the lead or leading at that time and we hung on, especially around No. 11.”
“After No. 11 it’s all into the wind for the next five or so holes. So those are very difficult holes so I was just hanging on for dear life and just trying to stay around the lead or now above the lead, so it’s good.”
Patrick Cantlay, who held a share of the lead after the two opening rounds, was one back at 9-under par. The 25-year Long Beach native offset two bogeys with four birdies en route to a 2-under par 69.
“It was kind of a roller coaster today. I didn’t play as cleanly as I would have liked, but I really stayed in it and made a bunch of putts and pitched the ball really well,” said Cantlay, who hit only 10 of 18 greens on Saturday.
“I thought given everything it was a really good day, a big momentum day, especially considering I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders out of the gate.”
A group of four players, including Cameron Smith (65), Kevin Na (67), Tony Finau (68), and Graeme McDowell (70), were one further back at 8-under par.
Derek Fathauer carded a 69 to sit alone at 7 under, one clear of Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.
Johnson, who nearly missed the cut on Friday, shot a low-round 64, including a 29 on his closing nine (Rivieras’s front nine) to move 49 positions up the board.
“I started on the back, I played the back nine very well, I just didn’t make any putts,” said Johnson.
“Came around and started on the first here on my 10th hole, made a nice 12-footer for eagle and that kind of boosted my round, and from there I wheeled off a few more birdies and shot a really good score.”
Thomas, meanwhile, bookended a first-hole eagle with a final-hole birdie to sign for a 4-under 67.
“It was a good day. It was a very patient day. I didn’t drive it particularly well, I hit some really good drives when I needed to, but the putter was definitely working for me out there today,” said Thomas.
“I just really tried to stay patient and just kind of stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself.”
Thomas and Johnson sit T8, alongside Aaron Baddeley (67), Scott Stallings (68), and Ryan Moore (71).
One further back was Phil Mickelson who shot a 5-under 66 to sit T13, alongside Anirban Lahiri (67) and Sam Saunders (72).
“I played well today. I didn’t take advantage of the birdie holes, but I seemed to birdie some of the hard holes. It was a very awkward day. Moved up the board a little bit,” said Mickelson.
“I’ll have to go lower tomorrow than I had hoped, but it’s fun going into Sunday still with a chance.”
TOP 10: ROUND THREE
1 Bubba Watson -10
2 Patrick Cantlay -9
3 Cameron Smith -8
3 Kevin Na -8
3 Tony Finau -8
3 Graeme McDowell -8
7 Derek Fathauer -7
8 Aaron Baddeley -6
8 Justin Thomas -6
8 Dustin Johnson -6
8 Scott Stallings -6
8 Ryan Moore -6
13 Phil Mickelson -5
16 Xander Schauffele -4
20 Jordan Spieth -3
26 Pat Perez -2
26 Branden Grace -2
26 Alex Noren -2
37 Rafael Cabrera Bello -1
42 Thomas Pieters E
42 Rory McIlroy E
42 Matt Kuchar E
42 Charley Hoffman E
51 Tommy Fleetwood +1
54 Martin Kaymer +2
54 Adam Scott +2
54 Paul Casey +2
70 Charl Schwartzel +4
1 Justin Thomas 321.3 (T8, -6)
2 Brendan Steele 318.8 (T51, +1)
3 Adam Schenk 316 (T54, +2)
1 Patrick Rodgers 73.8% (T42, E)
2 Ryan Moore 69.1% (T8, -6)
3 Ryan Armour 69.1% (T65, +3)
3 Chez Reavie 69.1% (76, +8)
1 Patrick Cantlay 75.9% (2, -9)
2 Harold Varner, III 74.1% (T54, +2)
3 Bubba Watson 68.5% (1, -10)
3 Graeme McDowell 68.5% (T3, -8)
3 Adam Scott McDowell 68.5% (T54, +2)
1 Ryan Moore 1.538 (T8, -6)
2 Austin Cook 1.556 (T42, E)
3 John Huh 1.586 (T37, -1)
“If I win, yeah, the confidence will be up, but until I win, the confidence won’t be 100 percent I guess, will be 99 percent.”
– Bubba Watson
Credits: Getty Images, PGA Tour Media