Stricker takes big lead at Riviera

By Jill Painter
Staff Writer
PACIFIC PALISADES – The rain at Riviera Country Club
let up for most of the day, but Steve Stricker’s fine play remained in tact on a nice
afternoon.
Stricker turned the lights out on the Northern Trust Open field long before darkness
suspended play. Stricker is at 14-under for the tournament and owns a five-shot lead
over Luke Donald, J.B. Holems and Andres Romero.
He was on the 15th green when play was suspended, so he’ll arrive early today to
finish the third round before teeing off in the final group for today’s final round
on Super Bowl Sunday.
Stricker is the No. 3 player in the world, which makes his lead seem that much more
daunting.
“Obviously if Steve plays nicely, it’s sort of in his hands,”
Donald said.
Dustin Johnson and Stricker were co-leaders after 36 holes, but Johnson had a
horrendous front-nine on Saturday. He birdied the first hole then double-bogeyed the
third, bogeyed the fourth and bogeyed the ninth and 11th holes. Johnson is tied for
fifth, but he’s six shots behind Stricker. He, too, has four holes to finish in
today’s round.
After getting himself into contention after a second-round 66, Phil Mickelson
stumbled Saturday to a 71 and is 10 shots off the pace.
Mickelson has won the event two consecutive years, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll
hoist the trophy today. Stricker finished second to Mickelson last year.
Stricker set the tone for Saturday by birdieing the first hole and then making
birdies on Nos. 6, 8 and 10. He didn’t have any chip-ins Saturday but had four over
the two previous days. His putting was impeccable. He made a 14-foot putt on No. 6,
9-footer on No. 8 and tapped in for birdie on No. 10 in which he stuck his approach
shot to seven inches.
“There’s guys up there,” Stricker said. “Even though I have, I don’t even know what
kind of lead I have, whatever it is I still have to come out and play my own game and
makes sure that I do the things that I’ve been doing the previous three days.”
Stricker can’t remember having this big of a 54-hole lead since he won the Western
State Open in 1996.
After his 6-under 65 on Friday, he attended the Lakers game with some other PGA Tour
players. He sat with David Duval. He might be the world’s third-best player, but he
doesn’t get recognized like No. 1 Tiger Woods or No. 2 Phil Mickelson. Only one
person recognized Stricker at Staples Center. Stricker was having fun recognizing
other people.
When he pulled into the parking lot, he noticed Denzel Washington in the car ahead of
him. He spotted regulars like Jack Nicholson and George Lopez, too. And he had to ask
Duval who Khole Kardashian was.
“I had to google her,” Stricker said laughing.
“You end up people watching at these Laker games more than anything,” he said. “It’s
quite the scene. It’s quite the event to go to. The atmosphere is pretty cool.”
Donald wasn’t busy leaderboard watching as he posted a bogey-free 66 Saturday, then
had to take a drug test. He’ll play in the final group with Stricker. And he’ll try
not to focus on Stricker much, although that will be difficult.
“I’m sure if I can get off to a good start and string a few (birdies together) and
maybe close the gap early, he might start thinking about it,” Donald said. “But
again, I’ll just try to play my own game, not really try and watch him, just play the
course and try to make some birdies. Hopefully, I can get off to a fast start and put
a little pressure on him.”
Anthony Kim got off to a hot start Saturday. He birdied three holes on the front nine
and played with Ryo Ishikawa and Ricky Barnes to headline one of the biggest
galleries of the day. Kim, who grew up in Studio City, is seven shots back — thanks
to back-to-back bogeys on the back-nine – and knows it’s a long shot to win in his
hometown.
“It’s got to be pretty ridiculous,” Kim said of shooting a score that could win it.
“I’ve gotta look for some help and shoot 63, 64.”
Stricker was checking out all the celebrities on Friday, but all eyes will be on him
at Riviera today with his gargantuan lead.

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