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Ryuji Imada leads by two at Torrey Pines

Ryuji Imada is 5 feet 8 and weighs 150 pounds. He looks as if he could go windsurfing with no other equipment than a strong breeze.

But here he is at the Farmers Insurance Open with a two-shot lead going into the final round and a nerve strong enough to let him drop a 35-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday at the Torrey Pines South Course.

Imada, a 33-year-old native of Japan and a University of Georgia graduate, is at 203, 13 under par after three rounds. His round of 70 Saturday left him two ahead of Ben Crane and Michael Sim, a 25-year-old Scottish-born Australian citizen, who are tied for second at 205.

Defending U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover is fourth, three shots out of the lead after a 68, tied for the second-best score of the day. Glover managed his four-under round despite a double-bogey six on the par-four 10th hole, where he hit his tee shot up against a tree and had to take a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie.

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There is a six-way tie for fifth place, four shots behind Imada, that includes world No. 2 Phil Mickelson, second-round co-leader D.A. Points and 21-year-old Rickie Fowler of Murrieta. The group of four at eight under includes three-time major winner Ernie Els, who had his second straight 69.

Imada’s final putt took place after CBS ended its broadcast. What the viewing audience missed was Imada’s bold stroke, one he didn’t think was good enough. “I was hoping that it would go in,” he said, “but I didn’t think it would go in.”

In 2008, Imada finished second here, not that many people noticed because he was eight shots behind winner Tiger Woods. He also won the 2008 AT&T Classic at Duluth, Ga., but in 2009 Imada recorded no top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career.

When Imada struggles with his game, he said, it is usually his putting that is the culprit. This week, as was the case two years ago, “I come here and all of a sudden I feel comfortable. I know I’ve had success here and I know I’ve made putts on these greens and I feel more comfortable here.”

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That’s how Mickelson was feeling before this tournament began. But after his round of 70, which included a double bogey on No. 7 and an eagle on the par-five 13th, the 39-year-old who grew up in San Diego and has played on this course countless times was grumbling about his game.

“My short game kept me in it,” he said. “But I didn’t hit the ball the way I’ve been hitting it coming in. Hopefully, I’ll make an adjustment tonight.”

Mickelson said he would put in an emergency call to his coach, Butch Harmon. “We’ll see if we can do it over the phone,” he said. “But at least I’m in a position now where a good round tomorrow can get it done.”

Mickelson was also asked again about the controversy over his decision to include a Ping Eye 2 square-grooved wedge in his bag. A U.S. Golf Assn. rule change that went into effect Jan. 1 makes square-grooved irons illegal except for the Ping clubs manufactured before April 1990. A lawsuit settlement among Ping, the USGA and the PGA Tour allows those clubs to be used.

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Some golfers, including Scott McCarron, suggested Mickelson was cheating, at least in the spirit of the rule, by using the club.

On Friday, Mickelson said he understood where critics were coming from. Saturday, he was more combative.

“We all have our opinions on the matter,” he said, “but a line was crossed and I just was publicly slandered. Because of that I’ll have to let other people handle this.”

The PGA Tour issued a statement saying it would discuss the club matter again Tuesday at a regularly scheduled players meeting before the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin


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