- Associated Press - Saturday, March 10, 2012

DORAL, Fla. — Rory McIlroy thought he might have a chance at 59. Tiger Woods opened with three straight birdies and made a charge of his own. None of this bothered Bubba Watson, who figured he could go just as low Saturday at the Cadillac Championship.

All the noise about McIlroy and Woods soon disappeared when Watson started eagle-birdie.

And even when Justin Rose ran off four straight birdies to catch him, Watson responded with a style of golf only he plays. He plunked a man in the gallery on one hole and regained the lead with a birdie. His target on another hole was a man in an orange shirt, and he hit that one to tap-in range for another birdie.

When his wild day ended with what Watson called his best shot of the day — “I chipped a low bullet 7-iron” — on the 18th for a routine par on a hole that makes him nervous, he had a 5-under 67 and a three-shot lead.

If the last two days were not enough evidence, Watson likes to play golf his way.

He has never had a swing coach since his late father showed him the fundamentals at age 10. He once jokingly said he shouldn’t take advice from anyone who couldn’t beat him. And when asked if his caddie helps him out, Watson replied, “He’s not very good. That’s why he’s a caddie.”

Now he’s one round away from his first World Golf Championship.

Watson was at 17-under 199, three shots clear of PGA champion Keegan Bradley (66) and Justin Rose, who lost out on playing with Watson for the fourth straight day when he three-putted the 18th from long range and had to settle for a 69.

As for McIlroy, Woods?

They were eight shots behind on a Blue Monster course that is yielding plenty of birdies in moderate wind, but where it’s tough to catch a guy with a pink driver who belts it where few others can.

The only other player within five shots of the lead was Peter Hanson of Sweden, who nearly holed a bunker shot from a downhill lie on the 18th and shot 69.

Only once did Watson worry that his shot might go too far.

Having survived a turbulent stretch at Doral — he lost a four-shot lead over Rose in three holes — Watson’s lead was back to three shots when he was in a fairway bunker on the 16th, just over 100 yards away. He tried to blast a 64-degree wedge, caught too much of the ball, and saw it sail over the green toward a pond Watson didn’t know was there.

It hit a tower, dropped to the side and Watson escaped with bogey. He followed with another wild tee shot on the 17th, though he managed to save par with a good pitch from the front of the green. And on a closing hole he called “ridiculous,” he had an easy two-putt par.

“All in all, it was a great day,” he said.

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