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Long-suffering William McGirt takes third-round lead at Riviera

William McGirt drives on the ninth tee during

William McGirt drives on the ninth tee during the third round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. Credit: AP / Reed Saxon

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. - William McGirt is one of those golfers who kept thinking of quitting the game but didn't. Three rounds into the Northern Trust Open, that decision looks like the proper one.

The 34-year-old McGirt, a nonwinner in 10 years as a pro, is at 12-under-par 201 and two shots in front going into Sunday's final round at historic Riviera Country Club.

McGirt recorded a 6-under 65 in the sunshine Saturday, though afterward, he wasn't recounting his round but the number of mini-tours he's played -- more than half a dozen -- and recalling how he once stunned Tiger Woods.

Woods, who's not playing in the Northern Trust this week, was listening in when McGirt was talking on the practice green of the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C.

McGirt had finished second in a Canadian Tour event the previous week and was conversing with Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava.

"Tiger looks up," McGirt recalled. "I think he was in mid-stroke. Stops. Looks up at me, and he goes, 'What did you say? You didn't look at the leader board?' "

All McGirt could answer was: "It's [was] my first time in that situation. I didn't want to screw it up."

He'll look Sunday.

Two behind him at 203 are Charlie Beljan, who last year lost a playoff here to John Merrick, and George McNeill. Jason Allred and Brian Harman are at 204, and Bubba Watson, after a round of seven birdies and no bogeys, is among several at 205.

"I think I only missed three greens," said Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, "and I putted on those. Very steady."

Second-round leader Sang-Moon Bae shot a 1-over 72 and is in the big group at 205.

"I may run out of fingers and toes," McGirt said when asked how many different mini-tours he played after leaving Wofford College in his home state of North Carolina. "For guys who came through the mini-tours, we tend to appreciate things [on the PGA Tour] a lot more. We could be playing for [a prize] less than our entry fee [on the mini-tours] . . . There were many times I thought of walking away."

Beljan is the golfer who was hit by a panic attack before the 2012 season-ending tournament at Disney World, spent a night in the hospital undergoing a battery of tests, then came out and won.

"It doesn't bother me," Beljan, 29, said when someone wondered about the frequent questions of the incident. "I just hope I can run into the right person that has the ultimate fix so I don't have to deal with it. But that was something I went through and something millions of Americans go through."

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