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Allred in hunt for first PGA victory

Television viewers across the Rogue Valley might have thought they'd happened upon a rerun of the golf movie, "Tin Cup," as they watched the third round of the Northern Trust Open Saturday.

Announcers Jim Nantz and Gary McCord alternately gushed about a no-name player climbing the leaderboard and scrambled to find out about him.

This time it wasn't their movie co-star, Kevin Costner, playing Roy McAvoy.

It was Ashland's own Jason Allred.

For the second straight day, Allred became a big part of the story line in the PGA Tour event at fabled Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

The 33-year-old golfer shot a 4-under-par 67 and is tied for fourth place entering today's final round.

His 204 total is three shots behind leader William McGirt and one shot back of George McNeill and Charlie Beljan.

Allred, coming off a tournament co-best 64 in the second round, was steady throughout. He made four birdies through 15 holes. His only bogey came when he left a bunker shot in the sand at No. 16, but he got up and down.

He regained the lost stroke with a brilliant approach and subsequent birdie on the 17th, then drained a 15-footer to save par on the last.

Allred, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., will be in the next-to-last threesome today with Bubba Watson and Brian Harman. Watson shot 64 to match Allred's round of a day earlier. Their tee time is 10:04 a.m.

Allred has competing feelings about his surprising showing in his first PGA event since the 2010 U.S. Open.

"On one hand," he said, referring to his expectations, "I need to be honest, it's totally blown them out of the water. But you know what, also to be honest, even when I go out to practice, whether it's to prepare for a Gateway (mini tour) tournament or this week, I still have that belief that I have it in me to win big golf tournaments.

"You know, at times, even I have had a hard time believing that over the years, but it sure is fun to be out here and be able to have a chance."

Allred has conditional status on the Web.com Tour. He played full seasons on the PGA Tour in 2005 and '08 but never got a chance to play the Northern Trust.

He got into this tournament by Monday qualifying with a round of 66. He's now in position to become only the third qualifier to win a PGA event since 1986.

A top-10 finish would gain Allred entry in the next open tournament Feb. 27 at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Even more tantalizing, a victory would bring with it a two-year exemption on the tour and a spot in the Masters.

Allred admitted that the struggles to make it caused him to assess his future last summer.

"I really never thought of doing anything else as far back as I can remember," he said, "and last summer I was conditional on the Web.com and not getting any starts, and for the first time I really thought it through and talked to my wife (Kimberly) and talked to my dad (Gene) about it. I feel like I can still do things in this game, but I have a family to take care of that means the world to me, so I really thought about it for the first time.

"And through that, to my amazing wife's credit and great people around me, it's been fun to kind of refocus and get back at it."

Given his story, there's little wonder Nantz, McCord and Co. went fishing for information about Allred as he continued to hang.

While players all around him received air time — including those in his group — Allred didn't attract the CBS cameras until they showed a replay of him draining a 25-foot putt for only the 12th birdie at the par-3 14th.

On the next hole, he was shown live, chipping from the fringe and making a tricky, curling putt for par that drew raves.

An info graphic of Allred was displayed and Nantz told of him winning the 1998 U.S. Junior Amateur over Trevor Immelman.

After the bogey on No. 16, the cameras were there at the 17th as Allred hit a sand wedge 75 yards into the par 5. It went beyond the hole, spun back, caught a ridge and wound up a couple feet from the hole for an easy birdie.

Roy McAvoy couldn't have hit it any better.

You could almost hear the bio sheets rustling as the announcers sought material.

"Boy," said David Feherty, "he is the feel-good story of the week."

"Is he ever," added Ian Baker Finch.

Allred nearly cost himself a stroke on the 18th. He putted out of thick grass from just off the fringe and ran his birdie attempt 15 feet past the hole.

When the come-backer was straight and true, Nantz intoned, "Unbelievable."

Allred's birdie at No. 14 was his second straight there, having holed out from a bunker Friday.

That hole, and the 18th, elicited nice reactions from the gallery in Round 3.

"It's the most excitement I felt from the crowd really ever in my career," he said.

After deciding to stick with his golf career last summer, Allred said he wrote down goals and how he intended to go about them.

"I refocused on my short game," he said. "I tried for a lot of years to hit the ball perfect, and I think I'm at my best when I let it rip a little more and get it in the hole. It's not always pretty, but it's felt good to do that."

His approach today?

"Really, I told my wife a couple weeks ago, if I can look back on the week and say I really enjoyed it and stayed present in the moment, whatever happens I'll be proud of myself for that," he said.

"It's a challenge at times. This is somewhat of a new situation for me, but I sure am having fun."

And it makes for good TV.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Jason Allred waves after saving par on the 18th hole in the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Saturday. - AP