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Associated Press

Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stricker leads Northern Trust by five with four holes to play

 • PGA first-stage qualifier at Turtle Bay
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Steve Stricker leads the Northern Trust Open at 14 under par, but has four more holes to play to complete his third round.

REED SAXON | Associated Press

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LOS ANGELES Steve Stricker had quite the Hollywood experience during a night out from the Northern Trust Open.

He went to a Lakers game Friday and spent more time watching the stars than players. Denzel Washington in the parking lot. Jack Nicholson courtside, along with George Lopez and one of the Kardashian sisters (he looked it up on the Internet it was Khloe).

In unexpected sunshine yesterday afternoon at Riviera, Stricker was the star of his own show.

With an impeccable display of wedges and putting during a pivotal stretch in the middle of his round, Stricker turned a one-shot deficit into a five-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open before darkness halted the third round as he faced a 30-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole.

"I did a lot of good things," said Stricker, who was at 14-under par.

The clubhouse leaders were Luke Donald, who shot a bogey-free 66, and J.B. Holmes, who made one final birdie to finish his 67. They were at 9-under 204, tied with Andres Romero, who was 9 under and in the final group with Stricker.

Stricker wasn't sure how big his lead had grown, nor did he care. All that mattered was returning to Riviera at 7 a.m. today to finish off the third round, and trying to keep hitting the shots that put him in this position.

The tournament caught a huge break with the weather. A storm system off the California coast managed to dodge Riviera in the afternoon, leaving mostly sunny conditions and allowing for enough play that the tournament is expected to end today.

"I've got to prepare myself for a long day, and it's going to be tough," Stricker said.

He was the runner-up last year at Riviera, and a victory today would be enough to put him at No. 2 in the world if Phil Mickelson does not finish in the top five. Mickelson shot a 71 and was 10 shots behind.

George McNeill had a 66 and was at 8 under, along with Dustin Johnson, who finished his second round yesterday morning by chipping in for birdie on the 18th hole for a one-shot lead.

A day after some players couldn't reach the 18th green with a 3-wood, Johnson flew a 9-iron over the green and deep into the soggy turf. After a free drop, he chipped in for birdie to complete a 67 and take a one-shot lead.

But that didn't last long.

Johnson hooked his tee shot into the deep grass well left of the third fairway and never found it. He had to return to the tee to play his third shot, scrambled for a double bogey and it rattled him. He missed a 6-foot par putt on the fourth, had to scramble for pars, then missed a 5-foot par putt on the ninth to fall farther behind.

Stricker, meanwhile, was practically flawless. During a seven-hole stretch in the middle of his round, Stricker gave himself birdie chances inside 15 feet on six holes.

"It was a key stretch," Stricker said. "Stress-less would be the word. Is that a word?"

He made from 15 feet on the sixth and from just inside 10 feet on the eighth, after hitting into the ditch splitting the fairways. The exception came on the ninth, where Stricker drove into the left bunker and faced such a steep lip that he could only blast out to the fairway. From 123 yards, his wedge settled 8 feet away and he made it for par.

Parker McLachlin, a Punahou and UCLA alum from Hawai'i, shot 72 yesterday and was at 216.

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC

WESTWOOD, JIMENEZ AMONG FOUR TIED FOR LEAD

Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez each shot 4-under 68 yesterday to catch overnight leader Thongchai Jaidee after the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic at Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Thongchai shot a 69 to keep a share of the lead, and was also joined by Alvaro Quiros (67) in a quartet with 11-under totals of 205.

Rory McIlroy was two shots back in fifth place after a 69. Tom Watson shot 71 to trail the leaders by nine strokes.

Despite being joined by some of golf's biggest names atop the leaderboard, Thongchai said he liked his chances ahead of today's final round.

"I am confident I can win here," the 41-year-old former Thai army paratrooper said. "In today's round, I did not hit many greens over the first nine holes, only four in regulation, but I only had 10 putts. If I hit more fairways and greens in the final round then I will score better, and I know I am capable of that."

Westwood is looking for another title in the desert, after winning the Dubai World Championship in November.

"If the weather stays calm as it did for the third round it's going to be a birdie feast," Westwood said.

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