By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Defending champion Bill Haas was left reeling after five bogeys in seven holes around the turn effectively derailed his victory bid at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday.
Aiming to become the eighth player to win back-to-back titles at the PGA Tour event, Haas squandered a three-shot overnight lead and ended up one stroke shy of joining a playoff for the tournament as he tied for third place.
The 30-year-old American had outclassed a strong field at Riviera Country Club with a flawless seven-under-par 64 on Saturday and remained in an upbeat mood after setting off birdie-bogey-birdie in the final round.
"Overall the way I played yesterday, then got off to a nice start today, made a couple of nice putts, I really felt good," four-times PGA Tour winner Haas told reporters after closing with a two-over-par 73 on a sun-splashed afternoon at Riviera.
"I didn't think I could shoot over par, and then all of a sudden to be four-over par for the day, it just kind of hit me. Every shot, I wasn't comfortable, and I didn't hit a good shot. So I deserved it."
Haas, who won last year's Northern Trust Open in a three-way playoff with fellow Americans Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, was four-over for the round after he recorded his fifth bogey of the day at the par-four 13th.
Though he finished birdie-birdie to post a 10-under total of 274, he was one stroke short of joining compatriots John Merrick and Charlie Beljan in a playoff eventually won by Merrick.
"Under the gun with a three-shot lead ... maybe next time I'll handle it better but I know I'll be nervous again," said Haas. "That's part of the deal but hopefully I can handle it just one shot better.
"One shot better today I'm in a playoff and two shots better I win the tournament. There are positives to be taken but overall, you don't get this many opportunities."
Asked whether his overall performance at Riviera had given him a boost for next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, Haas replied "Yeah, absolutely.
"Even just the last two holes there, to finish birdie-birdie puts at least somewhat of a good taste in my mouth." (Editing by Ian Ransom)