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The names are there at Riviera

But it's two non-stars, Sang-Moon Bae and Fredrik Jacobson, who share the lead after two rounds of the Northern Trust Open.

February 15, 2013|Chris Dufresne

What an autograph-rush weekend it should be at the Northern Trust Open, with headliners such as Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Fred Couples all ... well, making the cut.

Never mind the top of the leaderboard for a moment and please consider the thrill these TV needle-movers bring to every hole.

You should have seen Mickelson at Riviera on Friday. He nearly holed out for double eagle on No. 1 but also bungled the par-four 10th hole.

He flew his tee shot left into the shrubs, chipped short, scuffed his wedge into a bunker, blasted out and two-putted for double bogey.

Thankfully for weekend TV couch potatoes, that didn't detour Mickelson from recovering for a four-under-par 67 to stay within five shots of the two leaders, who are going to be mentioned in three paragraphs.

Defending champion Haas shot 67 and stands at five-under 137. That's one stroke better than the four-under cluster that includes four-time major champions Mickelson and Els and almost-there luminaries Scott and Garcia.

Couples, making his record 31st appearance at Riviera, fired a one-over 72 on Friday but his two-under total secures "Boom Boom" a sweet spot for the weekend.

Among those in serious contention include two less-conspicuous players, Sang-Moon Bae and Fredrik Jacobson. Contention in this case means sharing the 36-hole lead at nine-under 133.

Bae, from South Korea, had nine birdies in his six-under 65 in the morning to rocket up the leaderboard. He held the top spot until Jacobson, from Sweden, got his afternoon round to 10 under before slipping back into a tie.

This isn't Tiger and Rory going head to head. English is a second language for both players, although they were speaking fluent golf Friday. Bae, 26, has 11 international wins and is ranked No. 82 in the world.

This is his 34th career event on Tour, however, and Friday marked the first time he held a lead after any round.

He apologized for his English-speaking skills, but his line "I hit a bunch of good shots" was perfectly understood.

Jacobson is a 38-year-old veteran with a creaky back who scored his only PGA Tour win in 2011 at the Travelers Championship.

Playing in perfect weather conditions Friday, it appeared he might threaten the Riviera course record of 61 when he was seven under through 13 holes. His birdie parade then came to a halt, as he played the last five holes in one over, but he still finished with a sizzling 65.

One shot back, at eight-under 134, stand veterans John Rollins and John Merrick.

Rollins, whose 65 was highlighted by an eagle on No. 11, is a three-time winner on tour while Merrick is a local boy finally trying to make really good.

He grew up in Long Beach and played at UCLA, where he moved on in 2004 in hopes of one day winning a PGA Tour event.

He's 30 now and still waiting. He's the poster man for life on tour being a grind.

Winning at Riviera, a course he says he has played more than 30 times, is still two very daunting rounds away. His best finish in five Northern Trust starts was a tie for 54th in 2010.

Merrick came close to a career breakthrough last year with his second-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

"I've had a couple of close calls," he said, "and dwelling on it and thinking about it, I think it's even harder. I think winning just happens when you're kind of in your process and playing well and doing the best you can on each shot."

Merrick was consistent Friday, shooting sides of 33 on his way to his 66.

The former UCLA Bruin starred on "USC Day" at Riviera. Saturday is "UCLA Day", so expect a big crosstown counteroffensive from former Trojan Kevin Stadler (he made the cut at one over).

Merrick knows how to play Riviera and, just as important, how not to play it.

"This is a course you can't fake it around," he said. "You need to think around here and you can't just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag."

Merrick used to always hit driver on the 315-yard 10th hole until "the hole just killed me over the years."

Merrick now lays up at No. 10 and so far has played it birdie-par.

The leaderboard gets more famous as you move down.

Luke Donald, ranked third in the world, is two shots back at seven under after his round of 66.

Former major winners Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) are at six-under 136 and three shots off the lead.

Matt Kuchar, the first-day leader with his 64, followed with two-over 73 on Friday to fall back to five under.

It makes sense Donald would fare well on a shot-maker's course. He rose to No.1 despite not being one of the game's longer hitters.

Current tour star Brandt Snedeker has used Donald as a medium-hitter model on his recent rise as the world's hottest golfer.

"Obviously, I think people took notice, and looked into why, how I did it, and what were kind of my secrets of getting there," Donald said.

Getting there for Donald this weekend would mean holding a trophy on Sunday. And that's no secret.

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