What’s Bill Haas got left for a sequel? Plenty in the bag, apparently.
The defending Northern Open Trust champ decided he’d had enough of acting like an extra from Central Casting after the first two days at Riviera Country Club. A burst of four birdies to surround an eagle at the treacherous No. 10 came during a seven-hole stretch in the middle of Saturday’s round that propelled him to a three-stroke lead going into today’s final round.
His 7-under 64 on the sun-baked fairways and slippery greens pushed him to 12-under 201, giving him the lead after 54 holes for only the third time in his career – and he’s only won one of them, at the 2010 Viking Classic.
A year ago, Haas came back from a two stroke deficit to start the final round, and on the 10th green, almost mistakenly nailed a 45-foot putt on a second playoff hole to extinguish the chances of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
The 10th fairway was the spot Saturday where Haas made the most dramatic shot of the day, holing out a 57-foot chip just as the national TV audience joined in the viewing to bust out of a tie with second-round co-leader Fredrik Jacobson and former UCLA standout John Merrick.
Haas used a 3-wood to knock it 268 yards off the tee before his chip. He said during the second round Friday, he approached that same testy hole with a driver.
“Wind changes, temperatures, softness of the green, where the pin is – it all changes by the minute, not necessarily by the day,” said the 30-year-old.
“Hopefully when I get to that tee box tomorrow, I’ll make a game plan.”
Haas, who has a streak of 40 holes without a bogey, finds himself in a final threesome that includes another Wake Forrest grad, Webb Simpson.
The 27-year-old Simpson, who calls Haas like “a big brother to me,” joined up with Merrick and former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel at 9-under 204.
Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S Open and playing at Riviera for only the second time in his career, missed hooking up on his college team with Haas by a year, but “he’s really looked after me on the Tour. Our wives are friends. They’re both pregnant now. I’m happy for him – he’s going to be a dad.”
Unless anyone does something about it, Haas could also be the seventh back-to-back winner on the L.A. tour stop. The last was Mickelson, in 2008-09.
“If Bill keeps a three-shot lead and goes and plays well again, it’s going to be hard to catch him,” said Simpson. “But with the golf course this tricky, you get a guy that has a good front nine, I mean, he could be tied or even in the lead with nine to go.
“I think anything can happen (today).”
Mickelson’s 1-over 72, left sour by a bogey at 18, puts him at 3-under with a group tied at 17th that includes Bradley, who went 2-under Saturday.
Mickelson mixed in three birdies with three bogeys on the front nine, missing three par putts of about 6 feet each.
Bradley finished with four birdies and four bogeys for his round.
Haas, who tied for ninth at Torrey Pines and tied for sixth in Phoenix last week, could join Mickelson and Dustin Johnson as the only PGA players to record a win in each of the last four seasons.
Jacobson and Luke Donald remain in striking distance at 8-under, four back of Haas. Sergio Garcia’s 2-under 69 put him back into the hunt at 6-under for the tournament.
Second-round co-leader Sang-Moon Bae was 5-over 76, even though he started with a birdie on the first hole. His undoing was a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 17th, the largest score posted on any hole by the 22 players.
Charlie Beljan somehow remains in sniffing distance of the lead as well. The 28-year-old who became famous for enduring a panic attack to win the final tour even of 2012 and earned a two-year exemption, shot a 3-under 68 to put him at a tie for seventh at 7-under.
“Two years ago, I was playing the Gateway Tour and lucky enough last year to get on the PGA Tour and to get a victory,” said Beljan, paired with Ernie Els and Mickelson on Saturday and shooting a 68 to beat them both.
“To tee it up with Mr. Els and Mr. Mickelson and to have a day like I did is something that I’ll never forget. I had them both sign my visor. I’ll put it in a nice frame at home so I’ll always have something to remember.”
Beljan’s threesome today will be less spectacular – he’s with Josh Teater and Hunter Mahan, in the third-to-last group.
More fun will be had in the final three.
“I play with my friends all the time out here so I don’t think it will affect me one way or another,” said Simpson. “I love playing with guys that I can have conversations with and have a good time.”
Added Haas: “I’ve just got to stay in the moment, don’t let my emotions get the best of me.”