Phil Mickelson played some audacious golf but stayed on track for a second consecutive PGA Tour victory by ending the third round of the Northern Trust Open in a tie for the lead.
Winner of last week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the American left-hander ground out a one-under-par 70 in dazzling afternoon sunshine at Riviera Country Club to finish level with compatriot Keegan Bradley (66).
Mickelson, who began the day one ahead of the chasing pack, mixed two birdies with a lone bogey to post a seven-under total of 206 at an iconic venue where he triumphed in 2008 and 2009.
He had chances to regain the outright lead over the closing stretch but narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 16th and failed to birdie the par-5 17th after driving into the left rough.
“This was a great round for me because I did not play well,” said Mickelson after hitting only seven of 14 fairways and watching his tee shot at the par-4 15th end up in the hem of a spectator’s shorts.
“Yesterday and today I didn’t play the best. I wasn’t far off. I hit some good shots at times that didn’t quite turn out, but I was playing very defensive all day just trying to make pars.
“Now, there’s a lot of players that are right in it, within a couple shots of the lead, and it’s going to take a good round tomorrow. But I’m pleased that I put myself in it.”
Mickelson added: “Tomorrow is a big day for me. I’ve led all the way and I would like to do it to the finish. I love this golf course, I’m ready and I’m focused on tomorrow’s round. I’ve got a couple weeks off after it. I’m going to put everything I have into it to see if I can bring out some of my best golf.”
Bradley, who clinched his first major title at last year’s USPGA Championship, birdied two of the last three holes to match the day’s lowest score and join Mickelson at the top.
Americans Bryce Molder (66), Jonathan Byrd (69) and Pat Perez (70) were a further stroke back in a tie for third at six under.
“I feel very comfortable out there,” Bradley said after recording six birdies and one bogey. “I love the golf course. It fits my eye very well and I seem to be able to figure out these greens, which makes it a lot easier.”
Bradley was delighted that he would play with his mentor, Mickelson, in the final round. “I really look up to him... and any time you play with Phil means you’re playing pretty well,” the 25-year-old said. “I love Phil. Everything he’s done for me is great, and if I didn’t win tomorrow, I would hope he would.”
World No 1 Luke Donald, playing his first event on the 2012 PGA Tour, carded a 71 to end the day seven strokes off the pace in a tie for 26th.