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PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - South African veteran Retief Goosen survived a trying time on the back nine in tough scoring conditions at the Northern Trust Open to stretch his lead to two shots after the third round on Saturday.
A stroke in front overnight, Goosen ground out a two-under-par 69 on a firm and fast-running Riviera Country Club where the players faced a testing challenge reminiscent of a major championship.
The 46-year-old South African, a twice former U.S. Open winner, rebounded from four bogeys in six holes after the turn with two late birdies to post an eight-under total of 205.
"It wasn't easy out there for me," Goosen, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour who has not triumphed on the circuit since the 2009 Transitions Championship, told reporters.
"I had to work hard to try and stay positive and focused. But I'm still in the lead, and that's a good place to be.
Canadian Graham DeLaet, seeking his first PGA Tour victory, was alone in second after carding a 70 while Spanish world number seven Sergio Garcia was among a group of four players knotted at five under after shooting a 68.
Level with Garcia were South Korean Bae Sang-moon (66), PGA Tour rookie Carlos Ortiz of Mexico (68) and long-hitting American J.B. Holmes (69) on a multinational leaderboard stacked with quality players.
Masters champion Bubba Watson, who won last year's Northern Trust Open, was just four strokes off the pace after returning a 70, level with rising young American talent Jordan Spieth (70) and former major winners Vijay Singh (69) and Jim Furyk (68).
On a mild day at Riviera, Goosen birdied three of the first eight holes, draining a 35-footer at the eighth to storm three strokes clear at nine under.
Out in three-under 32, he struggled on the back nine with bogeys at the 10th, 12th, 13th and 15th that cut his lead to one.
However, he conjured a surprise birdie at the par-three 16th, where he chipped in from an awkward spot in rough above a bunker, and picked up another shot at the par-five 17th after reaching the green in two and two-putting.
"I didn't hit the ball that great on the back nine, especially my driver, and put myself in a few bad places," Goosen said.
"Overall, very happy. Obviously a very good finish and a nice chip-in on 16 that kept the scorecard going."
Editing by Larry Fine