By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - A year after losing a playoff for the Northern Trust Open, American Dustin Johnson was back in contention for the title as he ended the second round on Friday just two strokes off the lead.
Johnson, a nine-times winner on the PGA Tour, took advantage of good scoring conditions at a sunny Riviera Country Club, firing 66 for an eight-under total of 134, two strokes behind leader Jason Kokrak.
"I like where I'm at," Johnson, 31, 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.
"Yesterday I felt like I hit it really well, just didn't hole any putts. Today the same. I hit it really well, had a lot of good looks at birdie and just holed a couple more putts."
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, who also finished second here in 2014.
"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."
Twelve months ago, Johnson was edged out for the title on the third extra hole at Riviera, the par-three 14th. Hahn struck his tee shot to 24 feet and coolly sank the birdie putt before Johnson missed his attempt from 12 feet.
England's Paul Casey had been eliminated from the playoff on the previous hole.
"In the playoff, I hit good shots," said Johnson. "He just holed a long putt there on 14. So you know, hats off to him. It wasn't like I did anything wrong. I have no bad vibes or anything here. I love coming back here."
(Editing by Andrew Both)