THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - Former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell edged closer to his first victory in two years as he ended Saturday’s third round of the World Challenge with a two-shot lead.
The Northern Irishman, who despite several close calls has endured a barren title run worldwide since his playoff win in the World Challenge in 2010, fired a flawless four-under-par 68 to post a 13-under total of 203.
McDowell’s closest challenger was first-round leader Keegan Bradley who matched the day’s best round with a six-birdie 67 at a rain-soaked Sherwood Country Club to finish at 11 under.
Tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods, bidding for his fourth victory this year, was a further three strokes back after narrowly missing a seven-foot birdie putt at the last to card a 69.
Woods, however, failed to birdie any of the five par-fives on the hilly course below the Santa Monica mountains as he ended the day level with fellow American Bo Van Pelt, who birdied the par-four last for a 70.
“It’s wet and long,” Woods told Golf Channel about the saturated Sherwood layout after mixing four birdies with a lone bogey.
”Overall it’s hard to get the ball close. You’ve got to hit so much club to get the spin off the ball, and some of these pins are hard to get at.
“I’ve missed a lot of (birdie) opportunities and consequently I‘m not in double digits under par and closer to the lead.”
On a soggy morning, 2010 U.S. Open champion McDowell began the third round with a commanding three-shot lead but that was swiftly trimmed to just one after the fast-starting Bradley birdied two of the first three holes.
However, McDowell got his putter working in scintillating fashion, sinking birdie putts from 25 feet at the second and from 35 feet at the fourth to restore his three-stroke advantage.
Though Bradley picked up another shot at the sixth to apply early pressure on McDowell, the Northern Irishman maintained his grip on the tournament with further birdies at the ninth and 11th before parring the last seven holes.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry