Golf - Johnson and Merritt set pace, Spieth misses cut
By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - A year after losing a playoff for the Northern Trust Open, long-hitting American Dustin Johnson was back in contention for the title as he moved into a share of the early second-round lead on Friday.
Johnson, a nine-times winner on the PGA Tour, took advantage of good scoring conditions at a sun-splashed Riviera Country Club, firing a five-under 66 for an eight-under total of 134.
That left the 31-year-old American level with compatriot Troy Merritt (66), and a stroke in front of Australia's Marc Leishman who carded a 67.
Americans Kyle Reifers (68) and Justin Leonard (69), and Australian Adam Scott (68), were at six under while world number one Jordan Spieth was destined to miss the cut by a big margin after following his opening 79 with a 68.
"I like where I'm at," Johnson told reporters after mixing six birdies with a lone bogey on the heavily tree-lined layout. "Definitely happy with the way I played the last two days."
Johnson lost out in a three-way playoff for last year's Northern Trust Open, won by American James Hahn, but said he has no bitter memories from that experience.
"Definitely positive (memories) for sure. I feel like I play well here a lot. I really like this golf course. It sets up very good to me. It's fun to play," said Johnson.
"You've got to hit a lot of different shots, and it never plays easy. This is about as easy as it can play right now, good weather and the greens are really soft. Still, scores are not that low."
Merritt, whose only PGA Tour victory came at last year's Quicken Loans National, was delighted to shoot a bogey-free 66 after carefully plotting his way around the course.
"If you're not going to hit every fairway, every green, there's a lot better places out here to play from if you have the right angles," the 30-year-old said.
"Keep it in front of you. You really try to limit how aggressive you are, at least I have. It worked out the first two days and hopefully it works out on the weekend."
World number three Rory McIlroy, who opened with a 67 on his first PGA Tour start of the year, and 2014 champion Bubba Watson, who carded a 66, were among the late starters on Friday.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)