Stricker takes the lead at RivieraLOS ANGELES - Steve Stricker was in control on the course Saturday, building a five-shot lead with four holes to play when darkness stopped play in the third round of the $6.4 million Northern Trust Open. Stricker was 14-under par for the tournament and was to return first thing Sunday morning, facing a 30-foot putt for birdie at Riviera Country Club’s 15th hole.
England’s Luke Donald completed a five-under 66 for the clubhouse lead on 204. JB Holmes, who like the Englishman completed his round just before play was halted, snuck in a birdie at the final hole for a 67 to join Donald at nine-under, while on the course Argentina’s Andres Romero was nine-under with four to play.
The tournament fell behind schedule as players slogged through the rain on Friday. American Dustin Johnson returned Saturday morning to play the last two holes of his second round, chipped in for birdie at 18 to post a 67 that gave him a one-shot lead.
But he couldn’t match the steady Stricker in the afternoon.
Johnson lost his tee shot in deep, wet grass left of the third fairway, ended up with a double-bogey and didn’t look the same after.
He bogeyed the fourth, where he missed the green and then missed a five-footer to save par. Stricker, in contrast, took advantage of the rain-softened greens to give himself plenty of chances. After opening with a birdie, he dropped another birdie putt of 15 feet at the sixth and added birdies at the eight and 10th holes.
“It was a good day,” Stricker said. “I did a lot of good things. I think my iron play was definitely a little bit better, and I holed a couple of putts, made a couple nice saves when I had to.”
Stricker acknowledged that he had a long day ahead of him on Sunday, and despite his comfortable cushion he wasn’t looking too far ahead.
“I try not to get ahead of myself. It’s only the third round, and I still have holes to finish here,” said Stricker, who could have a chance to overtake Phil Mickelson for the world No. 2 ranking with a victory here, depending on where Mickelson finishes. Mickelson, seeking to become the first player to win at Riviera three straight years, launched his third round with an eagle at the first, but he finished with an even-par 71 that left him on four-under 209.
Donald was pleased to have his third round in the books after finishing off his second round on Saturday morning.
“I’m glad that I’ll be able to sleep in just a little bit more tomorrow,” Donald said, although he added that he was happy with his game. “I felt like I had a lot more control today and was very tidy when I missed the greens. It was a very neat and tidy round today.”
Donald, whose four victories worldwide include two on the U.S. tour, said he would be concentrating on his own game Sunday and not on trying to gain ground on Stricker.
“Obviously, if Steve plays nicely it’s sort of in his hands,” Donald said.
“I’m sure if I can get off to a good start and maybe close the gap early I might start thinking about it. But I’ll try and just play my own game, not really try and watch him. Just play the course and try and make some birdies.”
Anthony Kim finished eighth in the tourney. AFP
Steve Stricker of the United States tees off on the 11th hole during the third round of the Northern Trust Open PGA golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles on Feb. 6. [REUTERS]