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PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - South African veteran Retief Goosen, a twice former U.S. Open winner, seized a one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open on Friday in tough conditions more reminiscent of a major championship.
On a firm and fast-running Riviera Country Club layout where most players struggled to get the ball close with approach shots, Goosen scrambled well as he eked out a one-under-par 70 in the second round.
The 46-year-old ended his day with an unexpected flourish, draining a 30-foot birdie putt on his final hole, the par-four ninth, to post a six-under total of 136.
That gave Goosen, who is seeking his first PGA Tour victory since 2009, a slender one-shot advantage over Americans Ryan Moore (68) and Justin Thomas (69), and Canadian Graham DeLaet (67).
Burly Argentine Angel Cabrera, like Goosen a double major champion, was alone at four under after carding a 68.
"I didn't hit the ball as good as I hit it yesterday definitely," Goosen, who has been struggling for full fitness since having back surgery in August 2012 to repair a damaged disc, told reporters.
"Today was a little bit of scrambling with everything really but I got it up and down quite a few times, and that kept the round going.
"The rough is thick in places. The greens are definitely becoming U.S. Open-style. They are getting firmer and quicker. Some of these holes, if you get away with a par, it's a good score."
Goosen, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour who clinched the U.S. Open in 2001 and 2004, has not triumphed on the circuit since the 2009 Transitions Championship.
DeLaet, still hunting his first PGA Tour victory after being a runner-up on three occasions, was delighted with his position heading into the weekend at one of his favorite venues.
"I played well, I really putted well," said the 33-year-old from Saskatchewan. "For the first two days, I haven't been striking it quite as well as I expect of myself. But a hot putter will always keep you in there.
"This is one of my favorite courses on tour and I'm right where I want to be."
Masters champion Bubba Watson, who won last year's Northern Trust Open, was three strokes off the pace after carding a 69.
The cut fell at three-over 145 with former world number ones Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Luke Donald among those failing to advance.
Editing by Frank Pingue/Andrew Both