Stricker grabs lead on cold rainy day at Riviera


Northern Trust OpenLOS ANGELES – Dustin Johnson made a hole-in-one and Steve Stricker had seven birdies to brighten an otherwise dreary day at rainy Riviera and finish atop the second-round leaderboard of the Northern Trust Open on Friday.

Johnson’s 8-iron from 152 yards landed between the pin and the famous bunker in the middle of the green at No. 6, spinning back into the cup for an ace that put him in the lead for most of the afternoon. He had two holes remaining when play was halted by darkness.

Stricker, playing in a morning rain that never relented, chipped in for birdie on the 18th and nearly made an ace on No. 4 when his hybrid from 230 yards lipped out. He shot a 6-under 65 and had the clubhouse lead.

“I’m very happy to be done with the round, to tell you the truth,” said Stricker, who was at 10-under 132. “It was pretty miserable out there today.”

Johnson, also 10 under after making his lone bogey on the 15th, was to return early Saturday to face the par-5 17th and the 473-yard closing hole at Riviera, which was playing so long in the cold and rain that some players barely reached the green with a 3-wood.

Johnson and Stricker were three shots clear of Andres Romero, who had three holes remaining. Forty-one players failed to finish the second round.

Phil Mickelson, trying to become the first player to win three straight years at Riviera, had a 66 and was at 4-under 138 after starting the day in a tie for 83rd.

Padraig Harrington, in his first tournament of the year, was 2 over with two holes to play. He was on the par-5 17th, where he hit a tee shot that went only 204 yards.

Darkness came early because of the gray clouds, and completing the second round in such conditions was impossible. Players had to spend extra time on every shot to wipe off the grips of their clubs and the brims of their hats. Late in the day, the maintenance crew had to roll water off the soaked tee boxes.

That made the performance of Stricker and Johnson even more remarkable.

“Dustin Johnson is 11 under,” Paul Goydos said in amazement as he walked off the 11th tee. “That’s like being 47 under through three rounds at the Hope (Classic).”

Ahead of him was Stephen Ames, bundled in rain gear and making light of the gloomy conditions.

“I don’t play golf for money. I play golf for fun,” Ames said, breaking into a smile. “And this is not fun.”

Johnson, who opened with a 64 for a one-shot lead, caught the brunt of the weather. Temperatures dipped into the 50s F (low teens C), and with the steady rain and soaked conditions, some players couldn’t carry their tee shots much more than 225 yards.

“I don’t like it, but do I mind playing in it? No,” Johnson said. “Everyone has got to play in it. Hitting it a long way helps, too, because the course is by far the longest I’ve ever seen this course play.”

Johnson is not one to get excited, and explained his ace on No. 6 thusly: “Probably my best shot of the day. Hit 8-iron and made it.”

If anyone can handle the rain, leave it to Johnson. He won at Pebble Beach last year when the tournament was cut to 54 holes because of rain, and at Turning Stone in 2008, which was slowed by rain early in the tournament.

The forecast was for more rain overnight, and throughout Saturday.

Stricker, the runner-up at Riviera last year, left the course with no idea when he would hit his next shot. He was four shots ahead of anyone who had finished the second round, with Kevin Stadler (71) and Tim Wilkinson (67) at 6-under 136.

Stricker played in the same group with Anthony Kim, who drove onto the par-4 10th green to open his round and managed eight birdies in his round of 66 to finish at 5-under 137, along with Steve Marino (67) and Ricky Barnes (71).