Sungjae Im shot a seven-under 65 on Friday at The American Express to take a one-stroke lead over first-round leader Brandon Hagy and four others.
Im, the 22-year-old South Korean who was the PGA Tour’s rookie of the year in 2019, had seven birdies in the bogey-free round on the Stadium Course at PGA West, highlighted by three in four holes around the turn.
Hagy was in position to join Im at 11 under, but he bogeyed his final hole with a tee shot into the fairway bunker to finish his 70.
Canada’s Nick Taylor (66), South Korea’s Si Woo Kim (68), Tony Finau (66) and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (65) also were 10 under.
Emiliano Grillo (66), Francesco Molinari (66) and Doug Ghim (68) were two shots off the lead.
The leaderboard was crowded with low scores as usual at the Palm Springs-area tournament long hosted by Bob Hope. Im, Taylor and Ancer were among 12 players who didn’t make a bogey Friday.
After splitting the first two rounds over two courses, the players will all play the once-feared Stadium Course for the final two rounds.
Matt Jones, Cameron Davis and Rhein Gibson will fly the Australian flag at the weekend.
Jones (68) and Davis (70) are both five behind leader Im while Gibson is two further adrift.
After his promising opening-round 68, Aaron Baddeley slumped to a 75 on Friday to miss the cut.
But the day belonged to Im, who shot the best round along with Ancer, Paul Casey and Brian Stuard.
“I’m pretty satisfied with how I played all of my shots,” said Im, who feels his putting has improved sharply this year. “Speaking of putting, I started drawing a line on the ball as I visualise my putts, and that seemed to work pretty well today.”
Im also feels he might have an edge because didn’t travel home to South Korea during the holiday break due to the mandatory coronavirus quarantine required. Instead, he stayed in the house he recently purchased in Atlanta and practised for the new season.
Hagy made 10 birdies in his opening round, but got off to a rough start Friday on the Stadium Course with two early bogeys. He rallied with birdies on his 16th and 17th holes, but his errant drive on his final hole kept him one shot off the pace.
Taylor, who also led the Sony Open after two rounds last week, shot a 66 with six birdies on the Stadium Course. He had three straight birdies on the back nine of his bogey-free round, including a 24-foot birdie putt on the 15th and an 18-footer on the island green at the 17th.
Tournament host Phil Mickelson made 18 pars for the first time in his 2,201 rounds of PGA Tour play. The 50-year-old missed the cut at two over.