LA QUINTA, Calif. — Jason Dufner had a good feeling when he made the turn Saturday at La Quinta Country Club in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I told my caddie and my amateur partners, ‘I’m about to do something good,’” Dufner said. “So, when you start thinking like that, good things happen.”
He did something a lot better than just good, birdieing seven of the final nine holes for an 8-under 64 and a two-stroke lead with one round left at PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course.
Winless since the 2013 PGA Championship, Dufner was at 23-under 193. He opened with a 64 on Thursday on the Nicklaus Tournament Course for a share of the lead and had a 65 on Friday on the Stadium Course to take a one-shot advantage.
“This is the way you want to play,” Dufner said. “This is what we work to do. My mindset’s at a point where, no matter what happens out there, good swings, bad swings, I know that I can shoot good scores.”
An opening round 75 proved to be too much for William McGirt to overcome as the Fairmont native missed the 54-hole cut to finish the tournament at 5-under. He followed Friday’s round of 68 with a 3-under-par 69 on Saturday, rolling in four birdies on the front nine holes before carding two bogeys and an additional birdie on the final nine. It’s the first missed cut this season for McGirt, who is taking next week off to practice.
Jamie Lovemark was second after a 65 on the Stadium Course.
“Any time you go out there and shoot 7 under, it’s a good day, no matter what,” Lovemark said. “I was pleased with the way I played the entire round. I’m in good position to compete for a win tomorrow.”
Adam Hadwin had a 64 on the Nicklaus Course to get to 20 under. The Canadian missed a chance to get closer, bogeying the par-5 15th after hitting into the water and closing with three pars.
“It’s just going to be a question of handling the nerves and making sure those putts kind of keep hitting the lines,” Hadwin said.
Phil Mickelson was tied for fifth at 17 under in his first start since the Presidents Cup in October and first since splitting with swing coach Butch Harmon to work with Andrew Getson. Lefty had a bogey-free 66 at the Stadium Course, holing a flop shot for birdie on the 10th hole.
“It’s been a good three days,” Mickelson said. “It’s been a good start.”
Dufner started the birdie spree on the first hole, hitting a lob wedge to 10 feet. He made a 20-footer on No. 3, hit a 9-iron out of a bunker to 3 feet on 4, two-putted the par-5 fifth and sixth, and made it five in a row with a 12-footer on 7. He rolled in another 12-footer on 9 for his 10th birdie of the day.
“I don’t worry about zones and talking about stuff like that,” Dufner said. “I’m just trying to hit each shot as good as I can and not let results and outcome dictate how I feel or how I think out there. … I’m just playing golf like I should.”
Dufner earned his PGA Tour card at PGA West in 2008 and is comfortable on the Stadium Course, the Pete Dye-designed layout being used in the event for the first time since 1987.
“Conditions are perfect for scoring,” Dufner said. “I’m not too worried about what other people are saying about golf courses. I feel like I can play pretty good. You got a lot of scoring clubs in your hand on that course.”
The Stadium Course had a three-day average of 70.908. The Nicklaus Course finished at 68.930, and La Quinta at 69.149. The cut was at 9 under, with 70 players returning to the Stadium Course on Sunday.
“I don’t feel as though this is a similar final-round course like we’ve had in the past,” Mickelson said. “You could get away with some wayward shots and still shoot in the 60s. But if you come out here and play a little sloppy, you’re going to shoot in the mid- to high-70s. It’s a very penalizing course for anything less than perfectly struck shots.”