CHRIS DUFRESNE

The names are there at Riviera

Merrick came close to a career breakthrough last year with his second-place finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

"I've had a couple of close calls," he said, "and dwelling on it and thinking about it, I think it's even harder. I think winning just happens when you're kind of in your process and playing well and doing the best you can on each shot."

Merrick was consistent Friday, shooting sides of 33 on his way to his 66.

The former UCLA Bruin starred on "USC Day" at Riviera. Saturday is "UCLA Day", so expect a big crosstown counteroffensive from former Trojan Kevin Stadler (he made the cut at one over).

Merrick knows how to play Riviera and, just as important, how not to play it.

"This is a course you can't fake it around," he said. "You need to think around here and you can't just pull out driver on every hole or shoot at every flag."

Merrick used to always hit driver on the 315-yard 10th hole until "the hole just killed me over the years."

Merrick now lays up at No. 10 and so far has played it birdie-par.

The leaderboard gets more famous as you move down.

Luke Donald, ranked third in the world, is two shots back at seven under after his round of 66.

Former major winners Charl Schwartzel (Masters) and Webb Simpson (U.S. Open) are at six-under 136 and three shots off the lead.

Matt Kuchar, the first-day leader with his 64, followed with two-over 73 on Friday to fall back to five under.

It makes sense Donald would fare well on a shot-maker's course. He rose to No.1 despite not being one of the game's longer hitters.

Current tour star Brandt Snedeker has used Donald as a medium-hitter model on his recent rise as the world's hottest golfer.

"Obviously, I think people took notice, and looked into why, how I did it, and what were kind of my secrets of getting there," Donald said.

Getting there for Donald this weekend would mean holding a trophy on Sunday. And that's no secret.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com
 

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