Golf-Korean Bae takes early control at Riviera
PACIFIC PALISADES, California |
PACIFIC PALISADES, California Feb 15 (Reuters) - South Korean Bae Sang-moon upstaged some of the game's biggest names by charging into an early one-shot lead in the second round of the Northern Trust Open on Friday.
Taking advantage of ideal scoring conditions on another glorious morning of sunshine at Riviera Country Club, the 26-year-old birdied his first four holes on the way to a six-under-par 65 and a nine-under total of 133.
That left him one ahead of little-known American John Merrick, who carded a 66, but several former major winners and heavyweight players were in hot pursuit.
British world number three Luke Donald was just two shots off the pace after returning a 66, with 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (67) and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (66) a further stroke back.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia (73), Australian Adam Scott (67) and British Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa (68) were among four players knotted at four-under 138.
"I played very well today," Bae told reporters after mixing nine birdies with three bogeys on a challenging Riviera layout where there is very little margin for error with approach shots into the small greens.
"I hit a bunch of good shots and I made many good putts, but I missed a couple of short putts on holes number five and seven. But that was not a big problem. I did my best today."
Bae was a runner-up at last year's Transitions Championship in his rookie season on the PGA Tour and he knows how difficult it is to win on the U.S. circuit.
"There are many good players on the PGA Tour so it's very competitive," he smiled. "It's a good experience for me and I will just play my game. My goal is win, but you know, that's not easy."
Winning this week will certainly not be easy for Bae with 12 of the world's top 20 players heading a strong field at Riviera.
Among them is former world number one Donald who has recorded three top-six finishes at the venue in the past five years.
"I'm happy with my score, obviously coming off a pretty good break," said the Englishman who is playing his first tournament since he tied for third at the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship in November.
"You never know how you're going to deal with being back in competition again but certainly a big improvement today, ball-striking wise. My short game has been very sharp.
"I've been excited about that. It's been a big key to my score so far and I'm excited to be in the mix again."
Donald, a five-times champion on the PGA Tour, totalled only 25 putts on Friday and sank monster putts from just off the fringe at the third, from 22 feet, and at the fourth, from 72 feet.
Overnight leader Matt Kuchar, who opened with a 64 to take a one-stroke lead, was among the day's late starters.
The cut was projected to fall at one-over 143 with triple major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Masters champion Bubba Watson among those likely to miss out. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)
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