By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson played some audacious golf but stayed on track for a second consecutive PGA Tour victory by ending Saturday's third round of the Northern Trust Open in a tie for the lead.
Winner of last week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the American left-hander ground out a one-under-par 70 in dazzling afternoon sunshine at Riviera Country Club to finish level with compatriot Keegan Bradley (66).
He had chances to regain the outright lead over the closing stretch but narrowly missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the 16th and failed to birdie the par-five 17th after driving into the left rough.
"This was a great round for me because I did not play well," Mickelson told reporters after hitting only seven of 14 fairways and watching his tee shot at the par-four 15th end up in the hem of a spectator's shorts.
"Yesterday and today I didn't play the best. I wasn't far off. I hit some good shots at times that didn't quite turn out, but I was playing very defensive all day just trying to make pars.
"Now, there's a lot of players that are right in it, within a couple shots of the lead, and it's going to take a good round tomorrow. But I'm pleased that I put myself in it."
Americans Bryce Molder (66), Jonathan Byrd (69) and Pat Perez (70) were a further stroke back in a tie for third at six under.
"I feel very comfortable out there," Bradley said after recording six birdies and one bogey. "I love the golf course. It fits my eye very well and I seem to be able to figure out these greens, which makes it a lot easier."
Bradley was delighted that he will play with his mentor Mickelson in Sunday's final round.
"I really look up to him... and any time you play with Phil means you're playing pretty well," the 25-year-old said.
"I love Phil. Everything he's done for me is great, and if I didn't win tomorrow, I would hope he would."
Mickelson made a good start to the third round with a two-putt birdie at the par-five first to remain a stroke in front of his closest pursuers.
He bogeyed the par-three fourth after failing to reach the green off the tee and then parred the next five holes to reach the turn at six under, tied for the lead with Bradley and Dustin Johnson.
Watched by huge galleries, Mickelson picked up another shot at the par-five 11th, after hitting a superb utility wood from the fairway on to the fringe of the green and two-putting, to briefly lead by two.
Though Bradley moved into a share of the lead with birdies at the 16th and 17th, Mickelson stayed level at the top as he mainly scrambled his way to pars on the last seven holes.
"Tomorrow is a big day for me," Mickelson added. "I've led from start to finish here, or all the way, and I would like to do it to the finish. I love this golf course."
British world number one Luke Donald, playing his first event on the 2012 PGA Tour, carded a 71 to end the day seven strokes off the pace in a tie for 26th.
(Editing by John O'Brien)