LOS ANGELES — In a city known for its star power, William McGirt has taken the spotlight.
After scoring birdies on five of his first six holes, the Fairmont native finished with a 6-under 65 on Saturday at Riviera to take the lead at the Northern Trust Open. He’s sitting at 12-under 201 after the third round, two shots ahead of George McNeill (66) and Charlie Beljan (68).
“The hole looked like a washtub for a while. I was tickled to death about that,” McGirt told PGATour.com. “It was one of those days when you could see the line.”
His putting prowess included eight birdies in 13 holes and puts him in line for his first win on the PGA Tour. His best finish has been back-to-back second places at the Canadian Open.
He won the Robeson County Golf Championship in 2002 but his last victory was on the eGolf Tour in the Carolinas, where the $16,000 winner’s check paid off his credit cards. Asked to name the mini-tours he played, McGirt said he would run out of fingers and toes counting them.
“When you’re 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,” he said.
The 34-year-old has much at stake in today’s final round. McGirt has played in only one major, the PGA Championship two years ago. He hasn’t won a proper event in nearly seven years, and even his one claim-to-fame comes with a caveat. McGirt made two aces in one round at a charity event, the second one worth a car.
Turns out the event failed to pay for insurance in case a professional made the hole-in-one. McGirt received a weedwacker shaped like a golf club instead.
First place at the Northern Trust Open is worth $1,206,000, which is $22,000 short of his best season on tour.
McGirt told PGATour.com that he wasn’t feeling any extra nerves.
“It’s just 18 more holes. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” he said. “All I can do is go out and play the best I can and when I get home there is going to be a 13-month old that is going to be ready to see me and he won’t care what I shoot.”
McGirt is among four players from the top 12 who have never won on tour. The others are Brian Harman, who had a 68 and was three shots behind, Cameron Tringale, who had a 67 and was in the group four shots behind, and Jason Allred.
Allred hasn’t played a PGA Tour event since qualifying for the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. His wife is due with their third child at the end of the month, so Allred came over to try to Monday qualify. After opening with a 73, he followed with a 64 on Friday and a 67 on Saturday and now is just three shots behind.
A victory would give him a two-year exemption, trips to the Masters and PGA Championship, Kapalua and Bay Hill and the Memorial and Firestone, even Shanghai.
He got choked up talking about support from his wife and the treat to be able to have a week like this.
“Making the putt on 18 is probably the most excitement I felt from the crowd ever in my career,” said Allred, who holed a 10-footer on the final hole. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be able to be at a place in my life. I just have so much to be thankful for with my amazing family. It just feels great to be out here and soak it up.”
One of them could emerge a big winner Sunday, though there are plenty of stars right behind them.
The leaderboard at times was more crowded than the 405, which has been reduced to two lanes this weekend because of construction, causing traffic that is bad even by LA standards. When the third round ended, 15 players were within five shots of the lead.
That’s not much at Riviera, on Sunday, chasing someone who has never had a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
The group at 8-under 205 featured Jordan Spieth (67), Dustin Johnson (69) and Jimmy Walker (67), who is going for his fourth win of the season after winning last week in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-am. Also in that group were a pair of Masters champions, Bubba Watson (64) and Charl Schwartzel (68).
Behind them were a pair of former champions at Riviera, Bill Haas and Aaron Baddeley.
“I’ve just got to go play my game tomorrow and hope that it’s good enough,” McGirt said.
This week already has been more than Allred could have dreamed, and he dreams a lot.
“I need to be honest, it’s totally blown them out of the water,” he said of his expectations. “But also to be honest, even when I go out to practice, whether it’s to prepare for a gate way tournament or this week, I still have that belief in me that I have in me to win big golf tournaments. At times, even I have a hard time believing that over the years, but it sure is fun to be out here and be able to have a chance.”