By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Two years ago, American journeyman William McGirt made the mistake of not once looking at a leaderboard during the final round of the Canadian Open where he was in contention for the title.
After being taken to task over that by none other than Tiger Woods, McGirt avoided a similar error last year at the same event, and he plans to follow the same policy in Sunday's final round of the Northern Trust Open as tournament leader.
McGirt ended up in a tie for second at both the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Opens, his best finishes on the PGA Tour, and hopes to go one better this week at Riviera Country Club as he seeks a maiden title on the U.S. circuit.
"In 2012, I bogeyed the last hole to miss the (Canadian Open) playoff by a shot," the 34-year-old American told reporters after seizing a two-shot lead in Saturday's third round at Riviera with a six-under-par 65.
"Last year (at the Canadian Open), I finished probably an hour before (the leaders), so I played well Sunday, but just kind of ran out of holes.
"Tomorrow I'll look back on that and try to draw from those experiences, and hopefully it will help pull me through it."
McGirt, who has bounced around between the PGA Tour and several lower-tier circuits since turning professional in 2004, agrees with Woods that his only error in the final round of the 2012 Canadian Open was not monitoring his tournament position.
"I think I handled it really well in Canada," he smiled. "The only mistake I made on Sunday was not once did I ever look at a leaderboard."
McGirt then slipped naturally into the role of a seasoned raconteur as he related the tale of how Woods came to learn of his 'leaderboard slip-up' at the Canadian Open.
"I got into the PGA (Championship) that year and we're down at Kiawah (Island) Monday morning and I'm on the putting green with my teacher," McGirt explained.
"And (Woods' caddie) Joe LaCava walks over and says, 'Great playing in Canada.' And I said thanks."
While LaCava and McGirt were chatting, Woods was practising his putting some 30 yards away and heard the subject of leaderboards crop up.
"Tiger looks up, I think he was mid-stroke, stops, looks up at me, and he goes, 'What did you say? You didn't look at a leaderboard?'" McGirt grinned.
"And I said, 'No.' And he walks over and he looks at me and he goes, 'Okay, spill the beans.'
"And I said, 'Dude, it's my first time in that situation. I didn't want to screw it up looking at leaderboards, get caught up looking at leaderboards.'"
Twelve months later, McGirt made sure he followed the advice given to him by Woods, the world number one and a 14-times major champion.
"Trust me, last year we're in Canada and I was looking at the leaderboards the whole time," McGirt smiled. "Maybe I made him (Woods) happy doing that. It's just one of those things.
"I'd rather put my head down and sprint through the finish line and look up at the end and see what happens, but I'll probably look tomorrow just to know what's kind of going on.
"We'll see. I've just got to go play my game tomorrow and hope that it's good enough."
McGirt, whose last victory anywhere came at the 2007 Cabarrus Classic Championship on the low-tier eGolf Tour, leads fellow Americans George McNeill and Charlie Beljan by two shots, at 12-under, going into Sunday's final round at Riviera.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)