(Reuters) - Fresh from a tie for third at last week’s Sony Open in Hawaii, American Matt Kuchar maintained his red-hot form to grab a one-shot lead after Friday’s second round of the $5.7 million Humana Challenge at La Quinta.
The world number 11 took advantage of another gorgeous day in the California desert as he fired a sparkling eight-under-par 64 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, one of three venues hosting the pro-am event.
Kuchar, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour known for his remarkably consistent play, mixed seven birdies with an eagle and a lone bogey to post a 15-under total of 129.
Overnight leader Michael Putnam was a further stroke back after carding a 67 on the Palmer Private layout, ending a day of near-perfect scoring conditions level with fellow American Bill Haas, who shot a 63 at La Quinta Country Club.
“Today was better even than yesterday,” Kuchar, the highest-ranked player in the field who had opened with a 65 at La Quinta, told Golf Channel.
”I had a nice round over in La Quinta, and that may be the toughest of the three courses, just how tight and narrow it is. Here you’ve got a little more space and reachable par-fives.
“I am continuing the good golf from last week. It was nice to get in the mix last week ... I‘m just trying to keep the form going and have some fun out here.”
Fellow American Ryan Palmer raised hopes of shooting a rare 59 before tying the course record with a 61 on the Nicklaus layout to finish three strokes off the pace.
Palmer’s electrifying tilt at a sub-60 score came up short after he narrowly missed an eagle putt from 15 feet on his penultimate hole, the par-five eighth, and a birdie attempt from nine feet at the ninth.
“It was almost surreal,” said Palmer, who rocketed up the leaderboard with a stunning eight-hole stretch of 10 under from the par-four 12th to the first.
“I holed out from 97 yards on 12 ... and then just kept hitting it close, made a few putts. It was one of those stretches you get in and you almost don’t realize what’s happening. You cherish those moments.”
Phil Mickelson, playing his first event on the 2014-15 PGA Tour, birdied his last five holes for a 66 to finish at seven under.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry