PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - South Korea’s Bae Sang-moon learned the value of patience at Riviera Country Club last year and used it to his advantage on Friday as he seized an early one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open.
On another sunny day with barely a breath of wind in the Santa Monica Canyon, Bae fired a flawless five-under-par 66 to take control in the second round of the PGA Tour event.
The 27-year-old from Daegu, who tied for eighth on his debut at the tournament last year, carefully plotted his way around a course that offers a variety of options for shot selection to post a nine-under total of 133.
Australian Aaron Baddeley, champion here in 2011, spectacularly birdied the last four holes for a 65 to finish at eight under, applying gloss on a superb putting display as he drained a 25-footer at the par-four 18th.
Charlie Beljan, beaten by fellow American John Merrick in a playoff for last year’s title, was alone at seven under after carding a 68 with compatriot Brian Harman (69) a further stroke back.
Bae, who clinched his maiden PGA Tour victory at last year’s Byron Nelson Championship, liked the look of Riviera the very first time he saw the classic layout and has clearly enjoyed himself so far this week.
“I had really, really solid two rounds,” the Korean told reporters after covering the back nine in three-under 33. “I love this course. Bit hilly and greens (are) small, so (you) need really good driver and irons into the holes.
“Not really easy, this course is very tricky. I always aim to focus on my game and just (stay) patient.”
Bae, whose joint eighth last year came despite a 76 in the third round, said his first tournament outing at Riviera had been a “really, really good experience’.
Asked what he had learned most from his debut last year, Bae replied: “Patience, that’s it. Patience is one of the strongest points of my game.”
Red-hot American Jimmy Walker, who has already won three times this season, was among a group of four players knotted at four under after following his opening 67 with a 71.
“Didn’t hit it great today but just kind of kept it right there and I had a good chance to shoot a good score,” Walker said after offsetting four birdies with four bogeys.
“Didn’t really materialize there at the end. I just didn’t have great control over the things that were going on, and just keeping it in front and trying to get up and down when I could, make a few birdies here and there.
“But definitely happy to be in a decent spot going into the weekend.”
Also at four under was American Jordan Spieth, the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year in 2013, who birdied four of his last five holes to shoot a 66.
“I putted great today, a lot of par saves on the front (nine),” said the 20-year-old. “I could have been four or five over at the turn and instead I was at even, so very happy with the finish, back in contention.”
The cut was projected to fall at even-par 142 with former winners Charles Howell III and Fred Couples among those likely to miss out.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry