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 a one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open.
On another picture-perfect day of unbroken sunshine 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, birdied the last four holes for a 65 to finish at eight-under, level with American Robert Garrigus (67) who played in tricky afternoon conditions as the firming greens became bumpy.
Charlie Beljan, beaten by fellow American John Merrick in a playoff for last year’s title, was alone at seven-under after a 68 with first-round leader Dustin Johnson (70) among a group of four players a further stroke back.
Play was suspended for the day due to darkness at 8:50 p.m. ET with six players yet to complete the second round. Among those, the closest to the lead was American Harold Varner III, at one-under after 16 holes.
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.”
The long-hitting Johnson, whose one-stroke overnight lead held up when the delayed first round was completed earlier on Friday, was delighted to remain in contention for a ninth victory on the PGA Tour.
“Very comfortable with how I’m playing,” said Johnson, who had opened with a 66 on Thursday. “I’m playing really well right now.
“Rolling the putter really well, too, so I’ve got a lot of confidence with it. I’m three back going into the weekend, and if I keep playing like I am, I’m going to give it a good shot.”
Red-hot American Jimmy Walker, who has already won three times on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, ended the day five strokes off the pace 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.
“It didn’t really materialize there at the end. But definitely happy to be in a decent spot going into the weekend.”
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, playing his first event of the year after recovering from tendinitis in his right shoulder, was at even par after carding a 72, level with fellow Englishman Ian Poulter (70).
The cut was set to fall at one-over-par 143 with American world number nine Matt Kuchar and former Riviera winners Charles Howell III, Mike Weir and Fred Couples among those certain to miss out.
Kuchar carded a 75 on Friday to end a run of 30 consecutive cuts made on the PGA Tour since he failed to qualify for the weekend at the 2012 PGA Championship.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry/Ian Ransom