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McIlroy, Watson go lightly on Riviera greens

By Tod Leonard
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McIlroy, Watson go lightly on Riviera greens

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The longer the shadows grew at Riviera Country Club on Friday afternoon, the less Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy were willing to challenge the greens.

There is a fine line between aggressively trying to make putts and avoid disaster on the poa annua putting surfaces, and they each chose to play on the defensive side in the second round of the Northern Trust Open.

The mercurial Watson rarely plays 10 straight holes with all pars, but he did so in shooting a bogey-free three-under-par 68 to go into the weekend in a three-way tie at eight under, two shots behind leader Jason Kokrak.

McIlroy put himself into more trouble on his back nine, trading two birdies with three bogeys in an effort of 69 that had him four shots back.

"With the greens as fast as they are," Watson said, "on some of the holes coming down the stretch, for me personally it was about making sure you don't give yourself a 4-footer. There were some that got away a little bit, but I still made them, so it worked out."

McIlroy said he was so cautious about the bumpiness of the greens in late afternoon that he was marking his ball when he left it 18 inches from the hole.

"Sort of going, 'You go ahead. I'll take my time on this one,' " McIlroy said with a grin. "It is a fine balance. I think that it's all to do with your approach shot. If you can leave the ball below the pin here and give yourself uphill putts, it makes it a hell of a lot easier."

Leonard: Ski or practice?

In the 23rd year of his PGA Tour career, Justin Leonard has settled on a new formula for better golf: practice less, ski more.

"I've talked myself into believing that skiing is actually helping my golf," the 45-year-old said.

Leonard, who sporting a heavy beard, recently moved to Colorado and decided to trim his schedule to 10-12 starts a year. Between tournaments, there is some work in the gym, lots of time on the slopes, nothing on the range.

"I take my clubs out of the travel cover to make sure nothing is broken," he said. "And then they just sit in a corner till I pack them up again."

This unconventional strategy worked through the first two rounds at the Northern Trust Open. Leonard shot three-under 69 in the second round and stood tied for seventh at six under.

Asked about parallels between his two favorite pastimes, he smiled and said facetiously, "It's amazing how similar they are."

The NTO is Leonard's fifth start of the wraparound season and third in the new year. He missed the cut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta and shot 76-76 two weeks ago in the Phoenix Open.

The former British Open champion has 12 tour victories, but hasn't won since the 2008 Stanford St. Jude Championship. He's never had a top-10 finish at Riviera in 18 starts.

Villegas struggles

After his opening 63, Camilo Villegas was probably due for a letdown. It was more of a crash landing, as the Colombian took 11 more strokes in scoring 74 to drop from the top to a tie for 15th with a five-under total.

His birdie count went from nine to two, and he made a double-bogey six on the second hole.

"It's not as sharp as yesterday -- it's fine," Villegas said. "I can go to my hotel and just kind of complain about it, or I can just have a good attitude and come here tomorrow and then have a good weekend."

Notable

The cut came at even par. Among those missing the weekend are defending NTO champion James Hahn (four over), 2013 winner John Merrick (five over), two-time champion Fred Couples (four over) and Sergio Garcia (four over). ... Valencia's Jason Gore withdrew with a back injury after playing the 14th hole. He was five over in the round and 10 over for the tournament.

This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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