(Reuters) - Overnight leader Matt Kuchar surprisingly dropped three shots in his last four holes to finish the third round of the $5.7 million Humana Challenge one stroke off the pace at La Quinta on Saturday.
Two ahead and seemingly cruising on another gorgeous day of dazzling sunshine in the California desert, Kuchar bogeyed the 15th, 17th and the last for a one-under-par 71 on the Palmer Private course at PGA West, one of three co-hosting venues.
That left him tied for fifth at 16-under 200, one behind fellow Americans Bill Haas (69), Erik Compton (67), Justin Thomas (68) and Michael Putnam (69) on a tightly bunched leaderboard at a pro-am event known for its low scoring.
Five-times major winner Phil Mickelson, making his first appearance on the 2014-15 PGA Tour, mixed eight birdies with four bogeys for a 68 to finish at 11 under.
"Not at all the way I wanted to finish," Kuchar, who had led by one shot after the second round, told Golf Channel. "But I guess the beauty about golf is that we play four rounds and I've got one more chance at it tomorrow. I am playing pretty good."
Kuchar, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour known for his remarkably consistent play, had been two strokes in front after 14 holes but bogeyed the par-three 15th after missing the green to the right off the tee.
He dropped another shot at the 17th, where his tee shot sailed right before his ball struck rocks and ricocheted across the green and into water, and also at the par-five last, where his second shot bounced off the back of the green into a lake.
Compton, a double heart-transplant recipient who has played mainly on the satellite tours, birdied four of his last nine holes to end the round joint top.
"It wasn't as good as it was the first two days but I got the job done," said the 35-year-old, whose best PGA Tour finish was joint second at last year's U.S. Open.
"I struggled on some of the par-fives but I was able to make some miraculous pars. I'm in the mix and will probably have to shoot somewhere five and nine under tomorrow (to win)."
The third-round cut fell at eight-under 208 with England's former world number one Luke Donald and American Brandt Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, among those missing out.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)