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Scott McCarron leads by two with a shot in the dark

Former UCLA standout birdies the final hole at Riviera. Phil Mickelson is three back after a 72.

February 21, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

As Scott McCarron attempted the rare art of putting in the dark in front of an audience on Friday evening at Riviera Country Club, his 50-strong group of fans seemed to share a collective question.

Does this one last baby have enough mustard on it?

The nine-footer with the eight-inch break rolled and then rolled, and they waited in their UCLA gear in temperature that had plummeted into the frigid high 50s, and they shouted, "Get in there!" Then, as that thing used its last legs to plunk down, they stirred up a little roar.

At an hour when usually the only people golfing are tykes with miffed parents calling them in for dinner, their man had just gone to 10 under par and a two-shot lead in the Northern Trust Open, a tournament he cherishes for about a hundred reasons.

"Made it in the dark," McCarron said. "That felt good."

With a 68 to pass first-round leader Phil Mickelson, McCarron edged ahead even on a day when firming greens made afternoon rounds harder than morning rounds. His front-running act excavated the fact that he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since a windy 36-hole Sunday in Atlanta in 2001. ("I won the Shark Shootout!" he cracked. "The Fred Meyer Challenge!") It also framed the Riviera weekend as potentially the case of a UCLA man trying to win it all at age 43.

That age would seem primo for Riviera, seeing as how the players closest to McCarron, Tommy Armour III and Steve Stricker, toted the canniness of four-plus decades on earth over the kikuyu of Riviera.

The remarkable Armour, 49, can spin you a second straight 67 and spin you some form of golf poetry, as when he said, "I think it's an always-changing kind of game. You have to change to stay the same. I think because if you stay the same, for some reason, it doesn't stay the same."

Asked if he'd made drastic changes through the years, he deadpanned, "A couple of wives."

As he sets to reach 50 in October and decide which tour to play, he says of the young-enough-to-be-his-sons crowd around him, "It's fun to beat young guys. I mean, that keeps me going as much as anything."

And then the comeback kid Stricker, 41, joined Armour at eight under partly because he came back. He came back from a venture into the kikuyu on his 14th hole, No. 5, for the lone bogey of his 66, by divining a four-iron to four feet on No. 6.

He also came back from his misadventure last month at the Bob Hope, where he had four sublime rounds and a three-shot lead and suddenly tacked on a baffling 77 on Sunday to drop to third. "That one stuck with me," he said. "You know, the next week at Phoenix [where he missed the cut], I shouldn't have even played. I should have just gone home. Mentally, I wasn't in it, down in the dumps."

Now after a respite in icy Wisconsin, he's back afresh, handy for dealing with the 10 players one shot back at seven under, bright lights who include two major winners (Mickelson, Geoff Ogilvy) and four other winners (Luke Donald, K.J. Choi, 2006 champion Rory Sabbatini, Pat Perez), even given Mickelson's thudding 72 that followed his sterling 63 and left him saying, "I didn't hit it good," he said.

He planned to dial up coach Butch Harmon, and that intrigue plus all else would seem oomph enough to sustain a weekend even with the cut claiming Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, Justin Leonard and 17-year-old Japanese sensation Ryo Ishikawa.

Just over in the dark from McCarron on No. 9, almost simultaneously, Ishikawa finished up a game 71 that left him at two over and three off the cut line. In lending the tournament a fresh layer of pizazz plus a fresh layer of photographers, he also had showed a game and manner that belied his mere years, even as he said, "If you had to put a number on it, I was 100% nervous yesterday, and 70% nervous today."

Lucky for him, he'll have, say, 26 more years before he can reach the age of, say, McCarron, who still looks plenty spry out there. He's trying to bury for good the memory of 2002, when he went to the final hole here tied with Len Mattiace only to make bogey, "which really left a bad taste in my mouth," he said. "I'd like to have that over again."

Who knows, maybe he could.

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chuck.culpepper@yahoo.com

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Leaderboard

Second-round leaders and other at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club (Par 71):

*--* LEADERS 1st 2nd Total Par Scott McCarron 64 68 132 -10 Tommy Armour III 67 67 134 -8 Steve Stricker 68 66 134 -8 Geoff Ogilvy 68 67 135 -7 K.J. Choi 66 69 135 -7 Pat Perez 69 66 135 -7 Rory Sabbatini 68 67 135 -7 Phil Mickelson 63 72 135 -7 Luke Donald 66 69 135 -7 OTHERS Jim Furyk 66 71 137 -5 Fred Couples 67 70 137 -5 Ernie Els 71 67 138 -4 Rocco Mediate 70 68 138 -4 David Duval 70 69 139 -3 Mike Weir 70 71 141 -1 MISSED CUT (CUT AT -1) Vijay Singh 72 71 143 +1 Paul Azinger 67 76 143 +1 P. Harrington 72 72 144 +2 Ryo Ishikawa 73 71 144 +2 Trevor Immelman 70 79 149 +7 Corey Pavin 73 78 151 +9 *--*

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