Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley tied for the top at Riviera

Phil Mickelson and caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay made their chat about how to hook a nine-iron sound as lyrical as Shakespeare, and then Mickelson hit that shot on the par-three 16th hole just as discussed.

The ball hooked and went round and round and landed about eight feet from the hole.

Mickelson didn't make that birdie, but he made enough other putts Saturday to keep a portion of the lead after three rounds of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

Keegan Bradley, the 25-year-old who won the PGA Championship at Atlanta Country Club last year to get his first major championship, joined Mickelson as co-leader after Saturday's third round.

Mickelson, 41, fought hard to shoot a one-under-par 70, and Bradley was creatively smooth with his five-under 66 (the best of the day, along with defending champion Aaron Baddeley and Bryce Molder).

Mickelson and Bradley are tied at seven-under 206, one in front of Molder, Pat Perez and Jonathan Byrd, and two up on Baddeley, Dustin Johnson and Bill Haas.

Mickelson, who has had at least part of the lead at the end of all three rounds here and is coming off a victory last Sunday at Pebble Beach, had a laugh about the conversation he had with Mackay on the 16th.

"So this is the problem with having microphones so close, right?" he said.

"These are our conversations. That pin over to the right, all that slope on the green pulls the ball left. If you hit a shot at the pin it's going to kick and go to the middle of the green. So I had to create a rounded shot that will get on the green, then side sauce up the hill. That's why I needed to hit a nine-iron. Because I needed to shut the face in order to be able to do that."

And as for the outcome?

"You heard the conversation," Mickelson said. "Did it not look like what we talked about?"

It did.

Bradley, who had six birdies and a bogey Saturday, was happiest about saving par on the 18th hole and getting the opportunity to play Sunday's final round in the final group with Mickelson and Molder. But mostly Mickelson.

"That's why I was excited to make that putt on the last hole," Bradley said. "I kind of figured that might be to get in the final group with Phil. I really look up to him and it would be really fun to play with him in the final group on Sunday at Riviera."

Mickelson's adventures Saturday included hitting at least parts of four trees.

"This was a great round for me," Mickelson said, "because I did not play well and I shot one under par and I'm on top of the leaderboard.

"Usually when I win I'll have two good rounds and I'll have two rounds that aren't so great. Yesterday and today I didn't play the best. But I wasn't far off."

Bradley said he first began feeling like a contender when he birdied the par-four seventh hole right after he'd done the same on the par-three sixth.

He said he hit a three-iron hybrid club off the tee on seven and then an eight-iron to within 16 feet. The birdie putt was hit confidently. "The pin was back, really a tough pin and that was probably my best birdie of the day," Bradley said.

As for playing Sunday with Mickelson, Bradley said it would be an honor. "Any time you play with Phil it means you're playing pretty well," he said. "I enjoy the atmosphere that comes with playing with Phil."

Even if that means having to duck when Mickelson hits a tree.

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