La Quinta, Calif. — Hudson Swafford beat the rain Friday in the CareerBuilder Challenge, and Phil Mickelson played his best in the worst of the conditions.
Then, there’s Danny Lee.
“I actually wanted to play in the rain, so I could experiment with myself,” Lee said. “Hopefully, it rains tomorrow.”
The New Zealander probably won’t get his wish Saturday, but another storm could pass through the desert oasis Sunday afternoon.
Swafford finished just before the rain moved in, shooting his second straight 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead. Winless in his four-year PGA Tour career, the former Georgia star had a bogey-free round on the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West after opening the pro-am tournament Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
“Managed to keep the ball in the fairway,” Swafford said. “That gives you a lot of nice approach shots into greens. I’m driving the ball beautifully.”
The rain-seeking Lee and first-round leader Dominic Bozzelli were tied for second.
Lee closed with a birdie for a 64 at La Quinta, far exceeding his expectations after a month off.
“Just trying to break 80, seriously,” Lee said. “Trying to not shoot something overly ridiculous, since I’m playing with the amateurs.”
Bozzelli followed an opening 64 on PGA West’s Stadium Course with a 67 at La Quinta.
“It wasn’t my best today, but I was able to save par, made some pretty big par saves throughout the round and kept it going,” Bozzelli said. “Actually, pretty lucky that weather held off a little bit longer than I thought it would.”
The tee times were moved up an hour to 7:30 a.m., and Swafford and many players finished before the storm rolled in over the San Jacinto Mountains at about 1 p.m.
“I had a full rain suit, five towels in the bag,” said Swafford, coming off a tie for 13th last week in Hawaii in the Sony Open. “My caddie was griping all day about how heavy it was. But I made a few birdies early and he said the bag was getting a little lighter.”
Mickelson got to use all of his rain gear, playing the final six holes in intermittent showers in the second-to-last group off the 10th tee on the Nicklaus course. The tournament ambassador followed an opening 68 at La Quinta with a 66 to reach 10 under in his return from two sports hernia surgeries.
“I hit a lot more good shots today than I did yesterday, but I’m still hitting some really bad ones,” said Mickelson, the 2002 and 2004 winner. “And that’s fine. It’s to be expected. I knew that was going to happen, but I’ve been able to kind of manage those and get away with some pars.”
The 46-year-old Mickelson had surgery Oct. 19 — three days after tying for eighth in the season-opening Safeway Open — and again Dec. 12.
Lefty made a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 11th — his second hole — and holed a bunker shot for birdie on the par-4 first. In the rain, he birdied Nos. 4-6 and closed with three pars with the wind picking up.
“It was really hard in these conditions,” Mickelson said. “I actually made some birdies in these conditions, so I felt very fortunate with the score that I had in this weather. The back nine I played some really good golf.”
Brendan Steele, the Safeway winner from the nearby mountain town of Idyllwild, was two strokes back at 12 under with Brian Harman. Steele shot a 64 on the Nicklaus layout, birdieing four of the last six holes.
“It was nice of them to move the tee times up for us as it starts to rain right now,” Steele said. “I was able to get done just in time and took advantage of some good conditions.”
Harman had a 65 on the Stadium Course, the toughest of the three layouts and the site of the final round.
Ryan Brehm (Michigan State) shot 71 and is at 3-under. Brian Stuard (Jackson) is at 2-under after a 72.
At Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Bernhard Langer closed with back-to-back birdies to shoot a 7-under 65 for a 15-under-129 total and a one-shot lead over Fred Couples after the second round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
Langer began the day tied for first with defending champion Duffy Waldorf and Marco Dawson after an opening-round 64 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course located adjacent to the Four Seasons Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Couples birdied four of the first five holes en route to a 7-under 65 to come in at 130 after 36 holes. Kirk Triplett shot an 8-under 64 to sit alone in third at 131.
Nine of the 47 golfers who teed it up in the first event of the PGA Tour Champions season were within four shots of the lead entering Saturday’s final round. Conditions were ideal the first two days as 41 golfers were under par.
At Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, it’s a new year, and same old story for Martin Kaymer at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
The two-time major winner from Germany set up another chance for a fourth victory at his regular year-opening tournament, shooting a second straight 6-under 66 Friday to take a one-stroke lead after the second round.
“My favorite golf course,” Kaymer said after tapping in a birdie on the par-5 18th to nudge ahead of Rafa Cabrera Bello with a 12-under 132 total.
Kaymer has averaged 68.73 in 38 rounds over the 7,583-yard National Course, a long track that suits his eye and his game. He feels extremely confident on the greens — he already has 14 birdies and an eagle this week — and the course’s many doglegs is perfect for a player who fades the ball off the tee.