LOS ANGELES — Bill Haas had another bogey-free round at Riviera on Saturday for a 7-under 64 — the best round of the day by three shots — that gave him a three-stroke lead going into the final round of the Northern Trust Open.
On a warm afternoon off Sunset Boulevard that made the greens even faster, Haas turned in a remarkable score. The key was a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 6-under par, including a 60-foot pitch that dropped for eagle on the scary par-4 10th hole.
He was at 12-under 201 and will try to become only the eighth back-to-back winner in the 76-year history of this tournament.
All he cares about today is winning.
“It’s very difficult in this game to just pull away from the rest of the field," Haas said. “You’ve only seen a few guys ever really do that, and those are guys like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson. So I think I’ve just got to stay in the moment, don’t let my emotions get the best of me."
A year ago, Haas was two shots behind going into the final round and wound up winning in a playoff over Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. This time, he has a comfortable margin over U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who each thought they did well for a 68.
John Merrick bogeyed the 18th hole for a 70 and joined Simpson and Schwartzel at 9-under 204.
Luke Donald overcame a sloppy start — three bogeys in a six-hole stretch — with four birdies on the back nine to salvage a 70 that put him four shots behind, along with Fredrik Jacobson (72).
Mickelson was hopeful of making a move and instead went the other direction. He missed three par putts of about 6 feet on the front nine and had a 72, putting him nine shots behind. Ernie Els, playing with Mickelson, also dropped shots early and dropped out of the hunt with a 73.
The round started with 20 players separated by five shots. Thanks to Haas and his flawless play, only eight players were within five of the lead.
It might not be easy for anyone to catch up to Haas if the sunshine continues to bake Riviera. The fairways were so firm that tee shots were running some 50 yards after they landed, and the greens were firm enough that balls ran out an extra two feet around the hole.
“I had a lot of 3- and 4-footers for par," Simpson said.
He was pleased with his round of 68 that included only one bogey, but when Simpson pulled out his cell phone to check the leaderboard as he sat down for lunch, he saw Haas atop the leaderboard with a 64.
“So he played great," Simpson said.
Most impressive about how Haas has gone around Riviera in the past few days is 40 consecutive holes without a bogey. The last one he made was on Thursday when he missed a 4-foot putt. But on this day, it was his birdies and one eagle that made the difference.
“I was just kind of plugging along out there and then all of a sudden, made a nice putt at 9, chip-in at 10, good up-and-down at 11," he said. And off he went.
The birdie putt on the ninth was about 30 feet, and Haas had to play it outside the hole and hit it with purpose. It broke sharply into the cup, and then he hit 3-wood off the tee on the 10th, leaving it some 10 yards short of the green with the left pin. He had seen Greg Chalmers play a pitch from about the same area to 6 feet short of the hole and figured that was a good play — anything that rolled by the hole was likely to keep going off the green and down into a valley.
Haas hit an even better shot, landing it about 15 feet short of the hole and watching it roll into the cup. He hit his second shot into a bunker near the green on the par-5 11th and got that close for birdie, and later in his round, he splashed out of the sand on the par-5 17th to inside a foot for his final birdie.
Simpson, who arrived at Wake Forest the year that Haas graduated, figures Haas will have to make a few mistakes for anyone to make a big move.
Also on Saturday:
Shin, Ko share lead
CANBERRA, Australia — Jiyai Shin of South Korea and 15-year-old amateur Lydia Ko both shot 3-under to surge six shots clear of the field heading into the final day of the Women’s Australian Open. Born in South Korea and based in New Zealand, Ko jumped to an early lead at Royal Canberra with birdies on the 2nd, 4th and 6th holes. She allowed Shin to regain a share of the lead with bogeys on No. 12 and 14 before making another birdie on the final hole to finish the day at 17-under 202.
Langer on top by three strokes
NAPLES, Fla. — Bernhard Langer shot a 2-under 70 to take a three-shot lead after the second round of the Champions Tour’s ACE Group Classic. Langer, who had a 10-under 62 in the first round, picked up where he left off with a birdie on his first hole. He made 11 straight pars after that, birdied No. 13, and had a par on the last five holes in windy conditions. He is at 12-under 132. Taiwan’s Chien Soon Lu and Tom Pernice Jr., who was runner-up last week in Boca Raton, Fla., are tied for second at 9-under 135.
Two top Africa leaderboard
EAST LONDON, South Africa — South Africans Darren Fichardt and Jaco Van Zyl share the lead going into the final round of the Africa Open, two shots clear of their nearest pursuers at East London Golf Club. Fichardt had a 65, setting up a great day by firing four birdies and an eagle on the first eight holes, but his second bogey on the 17th dropped him back to 15-under 129 and into a tie with Van Zyl, who had a 68.