Stars lined up behind McGirt


LOS ANGELES – Jimmy Walker is lurking in his rear-view mirror.

So are Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth.

Some of the most gifted players in the game are in the logjam just behind William McGirt on the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round of the Northern Trust Open.

It’s enough to make McGirt feel like David vs. a squadron of Goliaths.

McGirt heads to Sunday’s final round as the quintessential journeyman underdog, seeking at 34 to win his first PGA Tour title. McGirt has played so many mini-tours he can’t count them all.

“May have to use fingers and toes,” he cracked.

At No. 197 in the world rankings, McGirt has never even held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event before. He hasn’t won anywhere since winning a Tarheel event in 2007.

All of it makes him relish this chance in his fourth full season on the PGA Tour.

“When you are around mini-tours for eight years, and go through a bunch of heartaches at Q-School, once you finally get here, you really have to appreciate it,” McGirt said.

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McGirt seized the lead at Riviera Country Club on Saturday with a 6-under-par 65. At 12-under 201, he is two shots ahead of George McNeill (66) and Charlie Beljan (68).

A dozen players are within four shots of the lead.

Walker, Watson, Johnson and Spieth are all among a pack tied for sixth, four shots back.

McGirt, who is 0 for 96 trying to win a PGA Tour event, can find some inspiration in his rear-view mirror. Walker was 0 for 187 before breaking through to win his first PGA Tour event at 34 late last year. Walker has gone on to win three times already this wraparound season.

Walker wants his fourth title on Sunday. He gave himself a shot with a birdie at the last hole Saturday to shoot 67.

“I feel like I’m playing good, and I feel like that kind of carries over,” Walker said.

Watson got into contention with a 64 on Saturday, his career-best round at Riviera by four shots. He did that bombing his way around Riviera, launching his tee shot 362 yards at the 13th hole, the longest drive at Riviera all week. He was sharp in all facets of his game as he seeks to rebound from a loss at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in his last start. Watson couldn’t close a two-shot lead in the final round in Phoenix, making bogeys at two of the final three holes as Kevin Stadler went on to win.

“Only one guy beat me,” Watson said. “So, I played pretty solid. When I look back at it at the end of my career, I’m not going to pout over not winning. I took all the positives from it.”

Watson, 35, wants to get right back into the fire. He’s seeking his fifth PGA Tour title, his first since winning the Masters two years ago.

“I'm looking to the back nine tomorrow, having a chance,” Watson said. “Tomorrow is going to be about the pressure of trying to win a golf tournament, the people that haven't won, or the people that have won, trying to win again.”

Johnson, 29, is the first player since Tiger Woods to win in each of his first seven years on the PGA Tour. A bogey at the last Saturday left Johnson with a 69. He's coming off a second-place finish at Pebble Beach.

Spieth, 20, shot a 67 to get in the hunt. He is looking to shake off some weekend disappointments to win his second PGA Tour title.

“Today, for a Saturday, I felt like it was A+ for my mental game,” Spieth said. “Typically, my mental game on Saturdays has been a C. But really solid today.

Spieth squandered weekend chances at the Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in his last two starts. He was in the hunt at Torrey Pines before shooting 75-75 on the weekend. He was in the hunt at Pebble Beach last week before shooting a 78 on Saturday.

“This week, I’ve just kind of taken a different mindset,” Spieth said.

 Come Sunday, golf finds out what McGirt’s mindset is and whether he can slay some giants.