Rory McIlroy relishing final-round shootout on Riviera debut

World No 3 two shots off leader Bubba Watson as cream rises to top in California

Rory McIlroy loved the look of Riviera Country Club when he first saw the course earlier this week, and now relishes the prospect of being in the title hunt for the Northern Trust Open on Sunday.

The world number three, playing his first PGA Tour event of the year, stayed in contention by shooting a four-under-par 67 on Saturday and will start the final round just two strokes behind 54-hole leader Bubba Watson.

“Quality courses produce a quality leaderboard, and you just have to look at the names up there .. . Bubba (Watson), Dustin (Johnson), myself, Adam (Scott), all very, very good players,” four-times Major champion McIlroy told reporters after posting a 10-under total of 203.

“It’s going to be a bit of a shootout tomorrow. I’m happy that I stayed at 10-under and didn’t drop to nine,” added McIlroy after a brilliant up and down for par on the 18th hole.


McIlroy does not plan to worry too much about what others might do on Sunday, instead focusing on posting a good score. If someone shoots better, so be it.

“I don’t think you can look too much at what the other guys are doing,” he said.

“You’ve just got to go out and set yourself a number. If you go out and achieve that, and it’s not quite enough, then someone’s just played better than you that day.”

Making his tournament debut at iconic Riviera after being tempted here by the recommendations of many of his peers, McIlroy has produced solid golf with three straight rounds in the 60s.

Asked what he would need to do better in his title bid on Sunday, the 26-year-old replied: “I need to hit more fairways. I didn’t hit my first fairway until the eighth hole today.

“Even though the rough isn’t that long, being in that kikuyu (grass) takes so much control out of your hands. Even though the greens are soft, it’s still very tricky to judge.

“I feel like my iron game is sharp. Short game has been pretty good. My putting was nice today. I holed out well, and I have to continue to do that.”

Watson, winner of the title in 2014, birdied three of the last eight holes to edge one stroke clear.

The American left-hander used his booming length off the tee and his creativity around the greens to good advantage as he fired a four-under-par 67 at a sun-splashed Riviera, a venue he has always relished playing.

Watson mixed five birdies with a lone bogey on a firm and fast-running layout to post a 12-under total of 201, one better than fellow Dustin Johnson (68), Chez Reavie (69) and Jason Kokrak (70, the overnight leader.

Joining McIlroy at 10 under were Scott (67) and fellow Australian Marc Leishman (68), South Korean KJ Choi (67) and American Kevin Chappell (66).

A run of four birdies in six holes helped Pádraig Harrington card his best round of the week, a five-under 66 putting him in the top 20 on six under.