Late slip costs Watson outright lead at the Hope

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Long-hitting American Bubba Watson tumbled back into a tie for the lead when he double-bogeyed the final hole in Sunday's fourth round of the weather-delayed Bob Hope Classic at La Quinta, California.

Two strokes clear playing the par-four 18th on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, Watson dumped his approach into water on the way to an ugly six and a three-under-par 69.

That left him at 23-under 265 and level with compatriot Alex Prugh, who carded a 70 on the 7,553-yard SilverRock Resort layout, the longest of the four venues hosting the 90-hole tournament.

South African Tim Clark, hunting his first victory on the PGA Tour, shot a six-birdie 66 at SilverRock to lie joint third at 22 under with American Bill Haas, after a matching 66.

For much of a sun-drenched afternoon in the California desert, it seemed likely Watson would hold an advantage going into Monday's rain-delayed final round of the pro-am event.

Watson narrowly missed a birdie attempt from eight feet at the par-three 17th before his costly stumble at the last cracked the tournament wide open.

"Overall, if I am tied for the lead going into the last day, it's always a great week," a philosophical Watson told reporters. "So I'm looking forward to the battle tomorrow -- with myself and with the golf course.

DAMAGING CUT

Asked what had happened with his second shot at the last, Watson replied: "I tried to cut a ball instead of just playing a draw with a different club, and I left it out there.

"I knew it wasn't cutting as soon as I hit it because I was trying to baby it. It hit up there high and then it bounced all the way down into the water."

Watson's stumble on the 18th hole left 14 players bunched within five shots of the lead, setting up the mouth-watering prospect of a birdie slugfest for Monday's final round.

Prugh, who won the Nationwide Tour-sanctioned New Zealand Open last year, looked forward to tackling the hosting Palmer course on the last day of the tournament.

"I feel like ... I have a great opportunity to make some birdies and I'll capitalize on the par fives that I can actually reach," he said.

"If I just keep the game plan I was playing the last four days, keep on plugging along, making birdies here and there and minimizing the mistake, I think I'll have a great chance."

South African Clark who fired a sparkling 63 on the Palmer layout in the second round, said: "If you are hitting the fairway there, you can give yourself a lot of birdie chances.

"It comes down to making putts. That's going to make the difference tomorrow."

The fourth-round cut fell at nine under with 2006 champion Chad Campbell, U.S. Ryder Cup team mate Boo Weekley and former world number one David Duval among those failing to advance.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)