California: Bubba Watson swooped for an eagle and five birdies in a six-under par 65 at Riviera Country Club on Saturday to seize a one-shot lead going into the final round of the Genesis Open. Two-time Masters champion Watson is also a two-time winner at Riviera, claiming the most recent of his nine US PGA Tour titles here in 2016.
His 10-under-par total of 203 put him one stroke in front of Southern California native Patrick Cantlay, who rolled in a 55-foot birdie putt at the 18th to cap a 69 for 204. Watson, energized perhaps by his appearance in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game on Friday night, produced his signature moment right out of the gate. His second shot at the par-five first rolled within 18 inches of the pin to give him a tap-in eagle.
"We guessed right on number one today, trying to get the right yardage, the right club for the wind and everything," Watson said. "It calms you down real fast when you tap in for eagle." A par save from a bunker at the second kept the momentum going. Watson chipped in for a birdie from just off the green at the par-three sixth, the first of four birdies in a five-hole span. He followed his only bogey of the day at 15 with a birdie at 17.
"Knowing how difficult this golf course is, my whole thing was trying to hit greens, somehow just hang in there wherever I was," Watson said. "We hung on." With his monster birdie at 18 Cantlay separated himself from a chasing pack.
Australian Cameron Smith, Northern Ireland`s Graeme McDowell and Americans Kevin Na and Tony Finau shared third on 205. McDowell, who shared the overnight lead with Cantlay, carded a one-under par 70. Na posted a 67, Finau a 68 and Smith climbed up the leaderboard with a bogey-free six-under par 65.
Cantlay was delighted with his closing birdie, but said the real key to his round was grinding through holes three through seven without a bogey. "I hit great pitches and I hit a great bunker shot on three and I made all those putts and that was huge for the momentum," he said.
The stretch included a tough up and down at the par-three six, where he opted to chip over the small bunker in the middle of the green. His shot landed perfectly above the cup and funnelled down to the hole for a par.
"I was able to get so much height on it that I thought it would be pretty good when it was in the air."Cantlay, a former top-ranked amateur, will be seeking his second US PGA Tour title, after winning in Las Vegas in November.
He and Watson, who has slipped to 117th in the world after a forgettable 2017 season, will play in the last group on Sunday with Smith, whose pro wins include last year`s Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the Australian PGA Championship in December. Fifteen players are within five shots of the lead, including world number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson.
After squeezing into the weekend, Johnson blistered Riviera with a bogey-free seven-under 64 to move four shots off Watson`s lead. "Making the turn I said we`ve got 27 holes to see how good we are, we can get back in this thing," Johnson said. "You never know what`s going to happen. I need to get off to a good start again."