McCarron aimed his 5-wood toward the bleachers and watched it fade beautiful back toward the flag to about 10 feet, a final birdie in his round of 3-under 68 that gave him a two-shot lead over Steve Stricker and Tommy Armour III in the Northern Trust Open.
Phil Mickelson will need to do better on the weekend if he wants to successfully defend his title at Riviera. He was nine shots worse than his opening-round 63, but it was easy to see the upside after a 72 put him in the group only three behind.
This is the first time Im in contention heading into the weekend, and Im excited about it, Mickelson said.
The last two groups finished in the dark, including two players whose PGA Tour debuts turned into short ones.
Ryo Ishikawa, the 17-year-old sensation from Japan, had a 71 to finish at 2-over 144 and miss the cut by three shots. Vincent Johnson, playing on the Charlie Sifford Exemption, bogeyed his last hole for a 74 to also finish three shots below the cut line.
The reason why I missed the cut was I didnt hit the shots I should have, Ishikawa said. Of course, pressure and nerves had something to do with it.
Johnsons round came undone on the fifth hole.
After opening with two birdies, he was preparing to chip for par from right of the fifth green when the ball moved ever so slightly as he placed his wedge behind it. Johnson wasnt sure it moved, so he checked with his playing partner, Bryce Molder, who did not think it did.
Television showed otherwise, and when rules official Steve Rintoul caught up with Johnson on the seventh tee, he had to deliver the bad news. It was a two-shot penalty ' one for the ball moving, another for not replacing it.
It was too hasty of a move instead of waiting for a rules official, Johnson said, adding that he had a good time and learned his lesson.
McCarron was at 10-under 132, the 36-hole leader for only the fifth time in his career. He could not have found Riviera more peaceful in the cool of evening, with the fresh smell of eucalyptus and the air filled with the chirping of birds.
Then again, there were hardly any fans on the course ' except the mass of media following Ishikawa. The biggest cheers McCarron has had all week came Thursday night when he and other former UCLA golfers were introduced at halftime of the Bruins win over Washington.
Maybe that will change if McCarron can keep it up.
He loves Riviera and has felt vexed on this fabled course off Sunset Boulevard. His first time playing in the final group on the PGA Tour came ini 1997, joined by Masters champion Nick Faldo and Craig Stadler. He closed with a 73 and tied for sixth. Seven years ago, he had a three-shot lead with seven holes to play, bogeyed two of the last three and watched Len Mattiace win.
I love this golf course, McCarron said.
It showed him a little love in return, especially over the final hour. McCarron went after a tucked flag on the par-3 14th and hit 6-iron to about 4 feet for birdie, then came the sweeping cut he played around the trees and onto the green with his 5-wood on the 18th.
Stricker had a 66 to get into contention, which was important for his psyche.
A month ago, he had the lead at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic on Sunday until the desert wind began raging and Stricker paid for it on the 10th hole ' one tee shot out-of-bounds, another in the water, a bunker save for quadruple bogey that ultimate cost him the tournament.
And the next week, he missed the cut, describing his attitude as down in the dumps.
But he went home to the now in Wisconsin and returned ready to make amends.
Ive had to pick myself up a number of times out here on tour, so Im used to it, he said. You need to move on, and just try to keep doing what you know how to do. And for me, thats working at it and trying to get better and try to get myself in that position again.
Geoff Ogilvy, who opened the year with a wire-to-wire victory at Kapalua, had a 67 and was in the group at 7-under 135 that included Mickelson, K.J. Choi (69), Bob Hope winner Pat Perez (66), former Riviera winner Rory Sabbatini (67) and Luke Donald (69).
Armour and Stricker had both posted at 8-under 134 when Mickelson teed off, and he promptly holed a 30-foot eagle putt. But that was among the few highlights.
He found the right side of the par-3 sixth green ' the wrong place to be with the pin in the back left and a bunker in the middle of the green ' then bogeyed consecutive holes on the back nine.
Obviously, Ive got to get things turned around, he said. I just couldnt get it to click. But weve got two more days.