SAN MARTIN -- Until California native John Mallinger reached the back nine Friday, the top of the leader board at the Frys.Com Open could not have been much tighter.
But Mallinger needed only 30 strokes to reach the clubhouse with a 62 for the day, 128 for the tournament and a four-stroke lead over his closest competitors, Billy Horschel and Jhonattan Vegas. Four birdies and an eagle on those last nine holes will add distance in a hurry.
"Any time you get it that low, everything was kind of clicking," he said. "Drove it great, irons were great, and made putts."
Mallinger knows there are two rounds left and 71 other golfers yet to beat. After Horschell and Vegas at 132 are Nicolas Colsaerts, Nick O'Hern and Scott Dunlap -- all five strokes back. Jonas Blixt and Jason Kokrak are at 134.
And while Mallinger didn't want to jinx his performance -- "let's not talk about it," he responded when asked about his "bogey-free" tournament -- he did talk about the challenge ahead of him before he can claim his first professional title at age 33.
"Obviously I think the pins might be a little bit different Saturday, Sunday. Usually a little tougher on Sunday," he said. "And just the pressure of being in that situation and handling it correctly. I feel like I'm close. I don't think I would be up here if I wasn't."
Mallinger, who has earned $949,000 this year to rank 98th on the PGA Tour money list, has two
He pointed to his eagle on CordeValle Golf Club's par-5, 496-yard 15th hole as key to his success Friday.
Coming off birdies at 11 and 12 and pars at 13 and 14, Mallinger hit a 275-foot drive down the right side of the 15th fairway, then used a 5-wood to clear a water hazard and settle the ball 11 feet from the pin. He sank the putt.
"It was a good spot for me," he said of the drive that put him in position to use his 5-wood. "I love that club I hit into the green, so it was a great number. Just made a confident swing."
Not that other golfers didn't have their moments, too.
Horschel's came on the par-4, 358-yard 17th. His drive headed into the rough, but the precise spot where the ball landed helped him make an impressive recovery.
"I got over there and it was in a little burrow, an animal spot, and I was lucky enough to get a drop," Horschel said. "I had already played out of that kind of grass two times this week. ... It's not as bad its looks."
On his next shot, Horschell said, he was just trying to swing as hard to avoid a water hazard. He did better than that, ending up less than 4 feet from the hole where he sank the putt for one of his seven birdies en route to a 6-under 65.
O'Hern, the first-round leader after shooting a 62 in wet weather Thursday, found the going tougher under clear skies and finished with an even-par 71.
"Yeah, I was hoping for rain," joked O'Hern, whose problems went beyond the weather. He needed 30 putts Friday compared to 23 his opening round.
In talking about his own game, O'Hern indirectly outlined what Mallinger could be facing Saturday.
"You know," O'Hern said, "it's always tough to back up a score like yesterday where everything just seemed to go right."
Ken Venturi is a deserving guest of honor. page 6
For a photo slideshow of Friday's round, go to mercurynews.com