William McGirt eyes his putt on the 18th green in the third round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. Picture: Photo/Reed Saxon

Los Angeles -

William McGirt has seen more than his share of odd bounces on the mini-tours, one-day tournaments and charity events that make up life for golf's less-elite professionals.

So taking a two-stroke lead into the final round of the $6.7 million US PGA Northern Trust Open, which hands out a top prize of $1.2 million, is something to savour.

“For guys that came through the mini-tours, I think we tend to appreciate things a lot more,” McGirt said Saturday after posting a third-round 65 at Riviera Country Club for a two-stroke lead over George McNeill and Charlie Beljan.

“We could be playing for less than our own entry fee every week. So everything that's out here, nothing's taken for granted.”

McGirt, 34, knows what it's like to drive all day for a chance to try to qualify for a tournament, fail, and drive home overnight to make another tee time.

He once made two holes-in-one in one round, but even that yielded little reward because the charity event in which he was playing hadn't bought the insurance to make the hole-in-one prizes available to pros.

No surround sound audio system, no Infiniti G37.

“At least I walked away with a good story to tell,” McGirt said with a laugh, adding that his friend who organised the event tried to make it up to him.

“He gave me this weed whacker - but it's a golf club weed whacker. It's plastic. I'm like, 'This is awesome. This is a fair exchange for a car.'“

McGirt's last significant win was in 2007 on the eGolf Tour, a third-tier circuit based in North Carolina.

His best finishes on the US PGA Tour are back-to-back ties for second at the Canadian Open in 2012 and 2013. He made it to the PGA Championship in 2012, and was discussing his experience contending in Canada on the putting green when Tiger Woods overheard him.

“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?'

“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.'“

The 14-time major champion's apparent dismay made an impression, however.

“Trust me, last time we were at Canada I was hawking the leaderboards the whole time. Maybe I made him happy doing that,” McGirt said, although he's not sure the technique really suits him.

“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.” - Sapa-AFP