Late eagle helps Lefty stay in front

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Helped out by a late eagle, Phil Mickelson has met his goal of leading the field into the weekend at Riviera.

Helped out by a lob-wedged eagle a hole from the finish, Phil Mickelson has met his goal of leading the field into the weekend at the Northern Trust Open.

Coming off his 4th AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am victory and his 40th Tour win overall last week, the American left-hander followed his 66 here at the storied Riviera Country Club at Pacific Palisades in California on Thursday with a workmanlike 1-under 70 on Friday that took his halfway tally to a 6-under 136 and kept him on track to what would be remarkable back-to-back PGA Tour victories .

His closest pursuers came and went all day in Friday’s second round, but at the end of the day it was fellow American Par Perez, wielding a hot putter, who finished closest, a bogey-free, best-of-the-day, 5-under 66 getting him to within one shot – and this only after Mickelson’s eagle at his penultimate hole, the eighth, had nudged him in front.

Five men occupy third spot going into the third round, with Swede Carl Petterson, Australian Jarrod Lyle and Americans Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar and Jonathan Byrd all in with a shout at 4-under, while Bubba Watson is one of a trio a shot further back on three under.

England’s world number one Luke Donald, playing in his first US tournament this year, carded a 72 to end the day six strokes off the pace and level with defending champion Aaron Baddeley of Australia, who shot a 69.

The cut was projected to fall at three-over 145 with Riviera gallery favourite and two-time champion Fred Couples, Australian Geoff Ogilvy and the 2006 champion here, Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, all expected to miss the weekend

After starting his day one shot in front when the delayed first round was completed earlier in the day, Mickelson struggled some to match his first round form and was therefore delighted when he holed out from the fairway at the eighth with a lob wedge.

“I probably didn’t play the greatest today, but I was able to kind of salvage my round with a good break on eight,” said Mickelson, who mixed his eagle with two birdies and three bogeys.

“That was kind of a nice little bonus.

“I left myself uphill par putts on seven and nine, and that’s really not a good thing to do here. If you’re going to make five or six-footers, you really have to have them uphill where you can hit them aggressive enough to hold the line.

“They just kind of wobbled off, so I ended up missing those,” he said.

Was he disappointed that he had not made better use of the calmer sun-splashed conditions that prevailed on Friday?

“Maybe,” he answered, “But I also put myself in contention heading into the weekend, which is what my initial goal was.

“So with 36 holes to go I’m right in the thick of it. I’ve got to go out, though, and shoot some low scores because they’re out there.

Perez, unlike Mickelson, did make the most of the benign weather, and charged up the leaderboard with a flawless 66 largely crafted with some magnificent putting – he hit only five of 14 fairways, but needed only 25 putts.

“I didn’t drive it all that great, but I managed to scrambled well and I put myself in the right places to make par or birdie. Overall I just putted pretty well. I made the putts I had to.”

Perez, who had to play in strong, gusting winds on Thursday morning in the opening round, was beaming about being able to enjoy a sunny, near-windless Friday afternoon

“It wasn’t even comparable,” he insisted. “Yesterday was 40 (degrees) and blowing 50 miles an hour at 6:00 in the morning. Today was warm and not much wind at all.

“When you’re not freezing to death and it’s not blowing 40, you can score pretty well.”

Eight players were still out on the course when play was suspended in poor light on Friday, but none were primed to challenge the leaders. They will have to complete their second rounds early on Saturday.

TOP 10 LEADERBOARD

136 Phil Mickelson (USA) 66 70
137 Pat Perez (USA) 72 65
138 Jimmy Walker (USA) 72 66, Matt Kuchar (USA) 69 69, Carl Pettersson (Swe) 68 70, Jarrod Lyle (Aus) 73 65, Jonathan Byrd (USA) 68 70
139 Marc Leishman (Aus) 70 69, Spencer Levin USA) 73 66, Bubba Watson (USA) 70 69

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