By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The way Jeremiah Wooding saw it he had nothing to lose.
After all, probably no one outside his immediate family thought the UNLV product had a chance to make the cut at the Northern Trust Open. Particularly not after Wooding, who was playing in his first PGA TOUR event, opened with a 75 at Riviera on Thursday.
But Wooding, who is playing this week on the Northern Trust Open exemption, given to a player who represents the advancement of diversity in golf, didn't give up.
"I just tried to stay patient and I knew nothing was going to be given to me and I had to me and I had to earn it," Wooding said. "It was fun. It was fun grinding it out."
The 24-year-old Californian set the tone for the day when he made a 15-footer for eagle at the first hole. He promptly gave those strokes back with bogeys on his next two holes but that was a momentary blip -- Wooding got back on track when he rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at No. 5.
Wooding then made a 5-footer for his second eagle of the day at the 11th hole to get to 1 over, which was the cut line for most of the afternoon. Again, he followed with a bogey but surged up the leaderboard with three birdies in his final six holes to get to 1 under for the tournament and into a tie for 37th.
"I just kind of said, why not, why not just let it go," Wooding said. "Have nothing to lose. ... I just said, let it go, pick a target. That's what I did, wasn't afraid to lose, wasn't afraid of anything, just go get it."
As Wooding walked away from the 18th hole after making a 5-footer for the last birdie, his old brother, Joshua -- who played on the same exemption in 2010 -- wrapped him in a bear hug.
"It was a very cool experience," Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah, who has conditional status on the Web.com Tour after making the finals of q-school last year, is the first of the five Northern Trust Open exemption recipients to make the cut in the PGA TOUR event.
"We are a small group of minority golfers and we are a small crew; and that was one of my goals to be the first one," Wooding said. "Not to take anything away from the guys that had come before me, but this is an opportunity that is well appreciated by the five of us that have gotten an exemption, and to make the most of it is great; to take the exemption and make the most out of it."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- When Phil Mickelson launched an 8-iron to a mere 3 inches for an eagle at the first hole, he was fairly certain Friday was going to be a good one.
Granted, he could have done without that double bogey at the driveable 10th hole -- "It took a great round and just turned it into a pretty good one," Mickelson acknowledged. But he closed with three birdies over his final eight holes and suddenly finds himself in contention for his third Northern Trust Open title in the last six years.
"I just need a good round tomorrow to get right in it for Sunday," said Mickelson, who lost in a playoff last year.
Mickelson played Riviera's three par 5s in 4 under on Friday, chipping to 16 inches at the 11th hole and two-putting from 36 feet at the 17th to complement the opening eagle. He used just 25 putts while hitting six fairways (double the total from the first round) and 10 greens in regulation.
"I really like the way the swing started to feel today," Mickelson said. "I hit some really good shots. ... It's tough to get the ball close to the hole on those greens and I know that, so I try to be patient, and on the holes where I really need to make birdie, like 11 and 17, I ended up hitting the shots that I needed to to make birdies."
The 10th hole, which had relinquished a birdie in the first round, proved to be Mickelson's Waterloo on Friday. His drive on the 313-yard par 4 veered way left into the trees and he "fatted" his second shot into the chipping area. He bladed his third shot across the green into the bunker, blasted out and missed a 6-footer for bogey.
"It was a really precise shot," Mickelson said when asked about the wedge he sent into the greenside bunker. "I mean, as tight as these areas around the green that are shaved, it's tough to get a wedge underneath it, I really didn't have a chance.
"I could have putted it 25 feet to the side. Looking back, it would have saved me a shot but that's not really how I like to play."
Mickelson, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago, will have another chance to exact revenge there on Saturday.
"I felt like today my game was pretty sharp," Mickelson said. "I drove the ball well. Hit some pretty good iron shots. Hit a lot of iron shots the way I wanted to, and I feel like I'm putting good. So I just need to put it together for the right number."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES -- Practice sessions are one thing. Playing under pressure is another.
That's what Fredrik Jacobson found so satisfying about his tie for seventh last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -- his first tournament since last October when he was sidelined by a back injury. And to come to Riviera this week and continue to play well has been an even bigger confidence boost.
Jacobson fired a 66 Friday afternoon during the second round of the Northern Trust Open to move into a tie for the lead with Sang-moon Bae. The 26-year-old Korean matched Jacobson's score on Friday and the two are tied at 9 under, one stroke ahead of John Merrick and John Rollins.
"Obviously take a lot out of that, just being in contention again," Jacobson said. "I've had some good practice sessions before, but to bring it on the course and play under pressure, that's what it's about. And the sooner I can get back and put myself in this position where I can get some pressure, that's the best practice you can get."
Among the players giving chase are the world's No. 3 and 8 players in Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Donald is along in fifth at 7 under after shooting 66 on Friday while Westwood is tied with reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel.
Donald is making his 2013 PGA TOUR debut this week, and he's pleased with how he's played right out of the box.
"You never know with how you're going to deal with being back in competition again but certainly a big improvement today, ball-striking wise and my short game has been very sharp," he said. "I've been excited about that. It's been a big key to my score so far, and, yeah, excited to be in the mix again."
Simpson had the low round of the lot at 5 under while Schwartzel shot 67 and Westwood had his second-straight 68. Defending champion Bill Haas is among four players tied at 5 under after shooting 67 in the second round.
"The scoring is very bunched," Westwood said. "That's probably due to the greens. It's difficult to hole putts in the afternoon. You'll find most guys make a good score in the morning and the guys in the afternoon are happy -- well, I'm delighted with 3 under."
The cut came at 2 over after Robert Streb, playing in the last group of the day, made double bogey on his last hole. He had been among 70 players tied at 1 over but the double gave the players at 2 over a reprieve.
With 80 players making the cut, players are being sent off two tees starting at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT). Among those missing the cut are Graeme McDowell, playing for the first time in 2013; big-hitting Dustin Johnson; former UCLA standouts Corey Pavin and Patrick Cantlay and major champions Padraig Harrington, Mike Weir, Zach Johnson, Geoff Ogilvy, Bubba Watson and Lucas Glover.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick calls it the "eternal golfer's dilemma." The former UCLA standout plays in a tournament, and the Northern Trust Open is his fifth straight, and then Merrick picks apart his performance in the quest to improve.
"I've just been trying to regroup each tournament and try to figure out what's gone wrong," Merrick explained. "... It's a work in progress all the time. Just trying to minimize the mistakes and put up a good number each day."
So far, so good, too. After missed cuts the first two weeks of the West Coast swing, Merrick has shot in the 60s in eight of his last 10 rounds -- and the two most recent at Riviera have landed him in a tie for third at 8 under, one shot off the lead.
On Friday, Merrick fired a 66 that included six birdies and a single shot dropped to par. He only hit nine fairways, but that was four more than in the first round, and a solid 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
"I'm feeling comfortable with my swing," Merrick said. "I've been working on it hard. ... I feel like I'm in a good spot and I kind of figured a couple things out with my putting last week up at Pebble and made some good ones. Missed a couple short ones today but I think everyone is going to miss a few putts out there. Overall it was a pretty solid day on the greens, too."
Merrick is from nearby Long Beach and lives within 10 minutes of fellow TOUR pros and long-time buddies Peter Tomasulo, Patrick Cantlay and John Mallinger, who is three strokes behind after two rounds this week. He says he played most of his golf as a collegian at Bel-Air Country Club but he's racked up 30 or 40 rounds at Riviera, enough to feel "comfortable," Merrick says.
"This is a course you can't fake it around, you need to think around here and you can't just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag, so you really have to know where to miss it and where to position yourself," he says. "There's a lot of course management involved with this course, and I think over the years, I've kind of learned where to go and where not to go."
But Merrick, who has made the FedExCup Playoffs each of the first six years of the competition, is still looking for his first PGA TOUR win. The 30-year-old has been runner-up twice, most recently at last year's FedEx St. Jude Classic where he owned a share of the lead after 54 holes.
"I've had a couple close calls, and dwelling on it and thinking about it, I think it's even harder," Merrick said. "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."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Charl Schwartzel walked to his ball in the middle of the 18th fairway on Friday thinking he had a chance to pencil in a sixth birdie on his scorecard.
But he missed the green, as well as a 10-footer to save par, and Schwartzel had to be content with a 67 that left him in a tie at 6 under, three strokes off the pace being set by Sang-moon Bae. Not bad for his first two rounds -- ever -- at Riviera Country Club.
"I'm very happy," the South African said. "... At least I put myself in position for the weekend. There's still 36 holes to go and if I keep playing like I am, who knows."
Indeed. Schwartzel has been one of the best golfers on the planet over the last few months. He closed out the 2012 European Tour season with a two finishes of fifth or better, including a tie for third in Dubai, then started the new one with a 12-stroke win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and solo second at the Joburg Open. Oh, and he found time to blitz the field in Thailand by 11 strokes, as well.
So it's hardly surprising to see Schwartzel in contention again at his 2013 PGA TOUR debut. The 2011 Masters champ joked that he's "lucky" but more likely his success of late can be traced to the fact that the abdominal tear he suffered at the U.S. Open has completely healed and he can swing pain-free again.
"I fixed up my swing after the injury," Schwartzel said. "... That got me back to the consistency that I had going back just about the Masters time. I obviously played some courses back down south which I'm familiar with and that always helps. So with the swing changes, that's worked, or the improvements, I should say; some consistency has come and some confidence. So that was probably key."
The win in Thailand was Schwartzel's first -- anywhere in the world -- since the Masters. The breakout 2011 season also included a tie for ninth at the U.S. Open and top-20s in the other two majors. His only top-10s last year, though, came before his title defense at Augusta National and injuries began to set him back.
Like nearly every major championship winner, Schwartzel acknowledges it can be difficult to deal with the expections -- self-imposed and otherwise.
"It doesn't get bigger than (winning a major)," Schwartzel said. "So when you play in a normal event, you think there's no reason why you shouldn't win, and that pressure comes from yourself. And this game, you don't want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself. It does make it difficult."
Schwartzel says he was able to get away from the pressure on the golf course -- that's where he felt "normal" again. But he's glad to put the frustrations of 2012 behind him and anxious to see what the new year brings.
"It almost seems like you've got to fall before you get back up again," he said. "So that's basically what it looks like has happened to me."
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Fredrik Jacobson and John Rollins are among the players making a move on Friday afternoon.
Jacobson tied for seventh last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which was essentially his first four days of competition since October as he recovered from a back injury. He just made a 12-footer for his fifth birdie of the day at the 10th hole and is tied for second at 8 under for the tournament.
Rollins started on the back nine and got things rolling with a 14-footer for eagle at the 11th hole. He drained a bomb from 47 feet at No. 12, then answered his only bogey of the day with consecutive birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to turn in 32. Birdies at the first and fifth holes have landed him in a tie with Jacobson, as well.
Meanwhile, Ryan Moore has made five birdies in his first 11 holes to move to 6 under for the tournament. Four of the players at 5 under are currently on the course -- Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, rookies David Lynn and James Hahn and overnight leader Matt Kuchar, who is 2 over through 11 holes.
Defending champion Bill Haas has made three birdies and is 4 under for the tournament with six holes remaining. His playing partners Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley are 2 under and 1 under, respectively.
The cut line right now is 1 over with 75 players at that number or better.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- For the record, Luke Donald generally gives Michael Jordan six strokes a side when the two tee it up at The Bear's Club down in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"And that's usually not enough for him," the Englishman says with a smile.
Donald has known the NBA-legend-turned-voracious-golfer for several years. He's had a home base in Chicago for the past 15 years after electing to attend Northwestern in 1997. The two first met in the Windy City, where Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA titles, but their friendship has deepened in recent years.
"We live very close to each other now in Florida and play some golf together," Donald said. "His fiancée and my wife are good friends and we hang out a bit. It's great just to be around someone that was arguably the greatest of all time in his sport. Just to see how he reacts, his demeanor, see his attitude towards things.
"It's been nice just to spend a little bit of time with him."
Donald, who is making his 2013 PGA TOUR debut this week at the Northern Trust Open, knows a thing or two about being the best in his game, as well. He spent 56 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world and now clocks in at No. 3.
Donald certainly is showing few signs of rust this week at Riviera, where he finished second in 2010 and third in 2008. He made seven birdies in a round of 66 on Friday that pulled him within two strokes of Sang-moon Bae's lead.
"Happy with my score, obviously coming off a pretty good break, you never know with how you're going to deal with being back in competition again but certainly a big improvement today, ball striking wise and my short game has been very sharp," Donald said. "I've been excited about that. It's been a big key to my score so far, and, yeah, excited to be in the mix again."
As the questions about Jordan persisted in his post-round press conference, Donald smiled and was quick to point out that he "was in no way working with Michael." But he does relish the opportunity to pick the brain of the NBA star he remembers watching back home in England -- "he was clutch in every sitation," Donald says.
And the best advice Jordan has ever given him? It's common sense, more than anything.
"Most things he's said is play with what you can control," Donald said. "Don't worry about trying to hit the ball far. You're one of the best short game players; just concentrate on that. Nothing too out of the ordinary."
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The first six weeks of the season haven’t disappointed in the drama department -- Phil Mickelson’s near-59, Tiger Woods winning again, Brandt Snedeker’s smokin’ start, six tournaments, six different winners. Take your pick.
But there’s something about the Northern Trust Open and Riviera that has an air of big boy golf to it. It’s the seventh tournament of the year and a slice of heaven for the golf fan, perhaps because of the gaudy field it boasts.
Four of the top five in the FedExCup standings and 18 of the top 30 in the world entered, the most of any tournament so far this year. So here are five things to watch for this weekend at Hogan’s Alley:
1. Fred Couples has been showing up at Riviera for longer than his former college roommate Jim Nantz has been in the booth for CBS, which is saying something considering this is Nantz’s 28th year. This is Couples’ 31st appearance (a tournament record), and he’s in the mix again. Father Time seems to forget Couples is north of 50 years old when he rolls into the Palisades – he’s won twice there and has a truckload of top 10s. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to see what is still one of the smoothest swings in golf.
2. Speaking of smooth swings, anybody else notice Charl Schwartzel lately? Fifth, third, first, second. Those are his last four starts … on the European Tour. He’s making his PGA TOUR season debut this week in L.A. and not wasting any time. Neither should you. Watch the South African.
3. While we’re on the subject of debuts, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia are also teeing it up for the first time in the U.S. this season. All have had varying levels of success at Riviera, and all are again in the picture this year.
4. The return of the Kooch. Matt Kuchar is apparently well-rested after three weeks off following a pair of top 10s in Hawaii and a tie for 16th at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. By the way, he was the only player to finish in the top 10 in both Aloha State events, and he has apparently carried that momentum to L.A.
5. Bracketology, otherwise known as examining the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. The seeds will be revealed after the completion of the Northern Trust Open on Sunday night, and we’ll have complete analysis of the February Madness.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Sang-moon Bae birdied half the holes he played at Riviera on Friday morning and was rewarded with a one-stroke lead when he finished off a round of 65.
The 26-year-old Bae, who is playing his second full season on the PGA TOUR, has completed 36 holes at 9 under. Former UCLA standout John Merrick is alone in second after shooting a 66.
World No. 3 Luke Donald made a big move up the leaderboard with a round of 66 that brought him to 7 under, which is where the first-round leader, Mat Kuchar finished the opening 18 holes. Kuchar teed off at 3:12 p.m. ET.
Also climbing the leaderboard on a sun-kissed Friday morning were Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson and Monday qualifier Blayne Barber, who are tied right now at 6 under. Schwartzel shot 67 and Simpson a 66 in the second round.
Barber is 4 under through 13 holes. He disqualified himself six days after the first stage of q-school was completed last year after realizing he assessed himself an incorrect penalty and as a result had signed an incorrect scorecard.
Barber has no status on either the Web.com Tour or PGA TOUR and is playing the mini-tours. A top-10 finish this week would get him into the next full-field event on TOUR, which is The Honda Classic.