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NORTHERN TRUST OPEN NOTES

Bryce Molder feels good about his chances at Riviera

Molder is in the final group of the final round in the Northern Trust Open and has the confidence of a victory over Tiger Woods going for him. But that doesn't mean he won't be nervous Sunday.

February 18, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • Bryce Molder hits his tee shot at the 16th hole Saturday during the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
Bryce Molder hits his tee shot at the 16th hole Saturday during the third… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Bryce Molder will be that other guy in Sunday's final group of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Molder will be playing with co-leaders Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Mickelson has won 40 PGA Tour events and is, next to Tiger Woods, the biggest draw for golf, in person and on television.

Bradley is a rising American star who is only 25 and has won a major tournament (the 2011 PGA Championship).

But Molder, who is tied for third with Jonathan Byrd and Pat Perez a shot behind the leaders, has won too.

And even beaten Woods.

Molder, 33, won his first and only tournament last fall at the Frys.com Open and that field included Woods.

Molder shot a five-under 66 Saturday, tied for the lowest round of the day, and attributed his play this week to two simple things: good ball-striking and good putting.

His Saturday round included six birdies and Molder said, "I didn't make a lot of birdies today because I was making five-foot putts. I made some good 20-footers, but I also left the ball in a place where I could be aggressive with the putt."

Molder said that even though he finally got his first win last fall, he will still wake up nervous Sunday morning.

"I'll have a pit in my stomach," he said. "But I'm getting more and more comfortable [in contention] and having some feelings to go back on."

Molder already has three top-15 finishes this season and said winning late last year has made a difference. "You take some confidence from that," Molder said.

Tight field

There are 14 players within four shots of the lead heading into Sunday's final round, including defending champion Aaron Baddeley and Bill Haas, who won the Tour Championship last year and also the FedEx Cup points championship, which earned him a $10-million check.

Haas, who shot a three-under 68 Saturday and is two shots behind Mickelson and Bradley, birdied the 16th and 18th holes for a strong Saturday finish.

"I'm in a good position for Sunday," Haas said. "I don't know what the leaders will do, but I'll be in striking distance."

Baddeley, who has played this tournament every year since he turned pro in 2003, birdied his final three holes for a 66 and is also two shots from the lead. "That's a great way to finish," he said.

Etc.

The third-round-leading total of 206 is the highest 54-hole lead since 1996. … Mickelson has led tournaments after three rounds 30 times in his career and has won 21 of those events.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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