PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Here he is again.
Matt Kuchar, the first-round leader at the Genesis Invitational remained in front after shooting a 2-under 69 in Friday’s second round, taking a two-shot lead at 9-under into the weekend at Riviera Country Club.
Rory McIlroy, Harold Varner III and Wyndham Clark are tied for second at 7-under. Adam Scott, Vaughn Taylor, Russell Henley and Sung Kang are all at 6-under.
This is the 14th time Kuchar, who is seeking his 10th career PGA Tour win, has taken a 36-hole lead in a tournament. He has converted three of those into victories.
“It definitely wasn’t my best stuff today,’’ Kuchar said. “I’m certainly glad to be in the clubhouse at 2-under, 9-under under total. I wasn’t driving it nearly as accurate as I did the first day and I had to play very defensive. However, I did some good scoring.
“I’ve got to drive it better. That’s a critical component out here. I better find more control. I could use a little more control over the weekend.’’
As for Scott, he’s not leading the tournament, but he gave hope to players who are chasing Kuchar.
Scott, the 39-year-old Australian, shot a 7-under 64 to lift himself from the abyss of non-contention. Scott showed the rest of the field that a low number on tricky Riviera is attainable. The day before, it was Kuchar shooting 64 in his first round.
“Scotty shot a good one this morning,’’ Tiger Woods said Friday after slipping down the leaderboard into a tie for 46th at even-par following a 2-over 73.
Woods called Riviera a course that’s “a little more difficult to kind of chase at,’’ because “it helps that there’s really no rough out there, but because there’s no rough, everyone’s bunched. So, there’s so many guys that have a chance going into the weekend.’’
“It’s the nature of the golf course,” he said. “It’s a golf course where there’s no hazards to really hit it in. You can’t really lose a ball unless you’re Phil [Mickelson, who lost his ball on an errant tee shot on No. 3 Thursday].’’
Mickelson, by the way, failed to make the cut, finishing on 4-over a week after nearly winning at Pebble Beach.
This is not Scott’s first taste of success at Riviera. He has a positive history at the venerable course, having won this tournament in 2005 and also finishing second twice.
“I just feel very comfortable every time I’m here,’’ Scott said. “I stand on the tee very comfortable here and [with] shots into the green. I just feel my game matches up well for [the course], so I look forward to it every year. The only unfortunate thing about it is it’s usually my first tournament of the year.’’
Indeed, Scott came here after having taken seven weeks off following his victory in the Australian PGA Championship in December. His 1-over 72 in the first round indicated rust from the layoff.
Scott said he intentionally takes long breaks to fuel his hunger to compete.
“I like to starve myself a little bit of competition and make sure that I’m ready to come back out,’’ he said.
Varner, who missed his previous four cuts entering this week, likely didn’t have the same pangs that Scott did.
“Golf’s hard,’’ Varner said. “[I’m] excited to be where I am. I get to see the weekend for the first time [this year]. I got that [missed-cut] monkey off my back, so it’s going to be fun.’’
Varner had an eventful year in 2019, playing in the final group in the final round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage and shooting an 81 to tumble into a tie for 36th. In August, at the Northern Trust at Liberty National, he finished in a tie for third.
Now, he finds himself in the cauldron of competition again.
Varner said the collapse at Bethpage “sucked,’’ adding, “I just hated playing bad in the biggest situation I had ever been in. Obviously, sometimes I didn’t play very well in those circumstances, but it’s helped me out a lot — obviously PGA and then I go up to New York for the Northern Trust and play well.
“I’m getting way more comfortable. Obviously, you’re going to see the scoreboard, but just do what you can do. Sometimes you get caught up in what everyone else is doing, but … just run your race.’’
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