LOS ANGELES — Jason Kokrak sensed something special was about to happen, and he could point to his name atop the leaderboard Friday in the Northern Trust Open.
For so many others, Friday was something out of the ordinary.
Jordan Spieth, the world’s No. 1 player, made eight birdies and missed the cut by five shots. Charl Schwartzel made a double bogey and a triple bogey — the latter when a shot hit him in the hand — and still shot 68 to remain in contention. Padraig Harrington realized during the round he was wearing someone else’s right shoe. Brendon de Jonge was penalized four shots because he left a wedge in his bag that had been damaged the day before.
Kokrak made birdie on all the par 5s at Riviera on his way to a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead over Chez Reavie (67) going into the weekend. Kokrak has never won on the PGA Tour, though power can go a long way on this course under these conditions and he has plenty of it.
“It’s been a struggle to learn how to play this golf course,” said Kokrak, who has not finished in the top 30 in his four previous tries. “It’s old school. It’s very hard. But it’s right there in front of you. If I can hit the driver a little bit straighter and keep it in the fairway, it’s a huge advantage for me.”
He was at 10-under 132.
There was plenty of power around the top of the leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson (66) and Bubba Watson (68) were in the group at 8-under 134. Johnson has been the runner-up at Riviera each of the last two years, while Watson won the Northern Trust Open two years ago with a 64-64 weekend. Rory McIlroy (69) and Adam Scott (68) were four shots behind.
Johnson was hitting the driver so well that after a high cut that went 332 yards on the 12th hole, he decided to try the same shot on the 13th. He took it over the eucalyptus trees on the 458-yard hole, leaving only a sand wedge from 116 yards. He wound up making par, and making an impression on Adam Scott.
“Fourth hole of our day, he’s swinging like it’s 95 degrees and midday somewhere,” Scott said. “I was looking for another cup of coffee and he’s piping it over the trees on 13. The way he drives the golf ball is just unreal. He’s an incredible talent and fun to play with, fun to watch.”
Watson was far more boring. He opened with two birdies, added another on the par-4 eighth and filled his flawless card with 15 pars. He doesn’t mind boring as long as he’s not making bogeys, and that was quite a feat in the afternoon when the poa greens are so bumpy that putts roll like they have mud on the ball.
Schwartzel was anything but boring. He had seven birdies and an eagle, which helped soothe the aggravation of two holes. He caught a plugged lie in a bunker on the treacherous 10th to start his round and made double bogey. He followed with three birdies and an eagle at the par-5 first, only to make triple bogey on No. 2 when his tee shot hit a cart path and was next to the out-of-bounds fence. Trying to chip out a few yards, the ball bounced up and hit him in the hand.
“Those two holes were just out of the blue,” Schwartzel said. “I don’t feel like I did that much wrong with them. And if it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be top of the leaderboard again.”
He is coming off a victory last week in South Africa, and the 10-hour time change explains why he was a bit groggy for his afternoon tee time. Even so, he was in the large group at 6-under 136 that included McIlroy, Scott, Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Justin Leonard (69).
McIlroy had a few careless three-putt bogeys, but he atoned for that with a majestic 3-wood up the hill from 285 yards to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th.
Spieth was a long shot to make the cut after opening with a 79, but he at least made it interesting with four straight birdies around the turn. That ended with a bogey, and he left California in good spirits. “We’ll be fine,” he said.
As for Harrington?
He shot a 70 in white, classic-style Foot-Joys. They looked the same. The fit the same. But only when he went to clean off the sole and noticed a different set of spikes did Harrington realize the right shoe was different from the left.
It didn’t affect his play, although he surely left Riviera wondering who was wearing his other shoe. Or if the other player even noticed.