Northern Trust Open: Should be a captivating finish

Riviera Country Club averaged almost a shot easier on Saturday in the Northern Trust Open, but not so anyone would notice.

Retief Goosen extended his lead to two stokes at 8-under over Graham DeLaet with a loose back nine that only Tour pros seem to be able to manage:

The first nine was really putting, a lot of good recovery putts I made on the front nine.  The back nine, it caught up with me a little bit.  I didn’t hit the ball that great on the back nine, especially my driver and hit myself in a few bad places.  But I still made some good putts.

He shot 2-under on the day which kept him going lower, but with the tough setup at Riviera with its hard greens, it wasn’t easy: 

It wasn’t easy out there for me.  Mentally‑wise, I had to work hard to try and stay positive and focused.  But I’m still in the lead, so that’s a good place to be.  Just try and play solid tomorrow and keep the putter warm and see what happens.

The interesting thing about DeLaet is that he hasn’t won yet, but he keeps putting himself just right there. He only shot 1-under on the day, but that got him to 6-under by himself:

Yeah, I’m happy shooting under par.  It’s a tough golf course.  It’s just so demanding and tests your patience.  I’m satisfied with it.  It would have been nice to make a nice shot into 18.  Would have been nice to make that birdie and get within one of Retief but happy all in all with how I played today.

And putting himself just right there a few times taught him the lessons he needed to perhaps push it across the line on Sunday:

Patience more than anything.  Not getting ahead of myself.  I’ve slept on either leads or final group pairings before and I know like laying in bed, you’re thinking about what a win can do and this and that.  I’m past that now in my career.

I know I have to take it one shot at a time.  I know the most important shot for me is the one coming up next, that tee shot on 1 tomorrow.  That’s what I’m focusing on.  You have to get off to a good start out here, because you hit that stretch of 12, 13, 14, 15 playing into the wind that’s as tough a stretch as we play all year when it’s into the wind.  To get through there 1‑over, I think most guys would probably take that.

It will help him knowing that he has the support of 35 million Canadians who have been living and dying with him of the last couple of years as he has slowly risen to prominence on the PGA Tour. It’s no accident that he’s here again.

There are four players at 5-under: Sang-Moon Bae who shot 5-under on the day to get there, Carlos Ortiz, Sergio Garcia and J.B. Holmes.

Of those four, the intriguing one is Ortiz. Never heard of him before? Me either. But he made quite a splash in his rookie year on the Web.com Tour with 3 wins that gave him the first 3-win “battlefield” promotion since 2009 and only the 10th since its inception in 1997. He grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and played out of the same club as Lorena Ochoa. She was ten years older than him, but he was inspired by her work ethic and dedication.

With the low round of the day 5-under, Ortiz’ 3-under was pretty impressive. It’s like, “what doesn’t belong in this picture,” and yet, there he is:

Yeah, it’s playing tough out there.  I’m hitting the ball good the whole week, and I started kind of slow.  I mean, I bogeyed 5, I believe.  I hit a bad tee shot and then after that, I relaxed and started hitting much better.

He’s a long shot, of course, but if the course is playing tough and you think you’re hitting the ball good, that can be a potent and winning combination.

Sergio has sugarplum fairies dancing in his head after an incredible shot of the par-4 13th. He blew his tee shot off the planet and into the greenside bunker on 10:

Unfortunately I had the TV tower [in his line to the 13th green], which if I would have been off the bunker, it would have been nice.  It would have given me a better angle.  But because I was in the bunker — if I took full relief off the TV tower I was going to be up against the lip so I had pretty much no shot.

I probably had a couple yards, I would say between the TV tower and the trunk of the tree [Gary McCord said it was ‘a six-yard fairway,’ but whatever is was, no mortal would have attempted it just based on that. But there’s more.].

The difficult part about it was that I was in a little bit of a downslope in the bunker, ball a little bit above my feet, having to hit like a low, low cut that went underneath the branches.  So it just clipped one little branch.

He got it 214 yards just short of the green where he chipped it on leaving a 25-foot putt, which he sank. He said it was in his top-3 pars of all time:

But I was thrilled to, I mean, I would have been happy with five, so four was a bonus.

We will not lack for other competent pursuers on Sunday. There are seven big names lurking just 4 shots back at 4-under: Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh, Jordan Spieth, Angel Cabrera, Bubba Watson and Ryan Moore. And the eighth guy at 4-under, 3rd-year player out of Berkeley, James Hahn, didn’t get there by accident.

So the finish should be a good one, as they almost always are.

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