James Hahn's family moved to Oakland from South Korea when he was 2, and he started playing golf two years later at his father's driving range.
"Just a 'Tin Cup' kind of guy," Hahn said. "Just a driving range rat."
On Friday, in only his third big-league tournament, the 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie found himself tied for the Humana Challenge lead for the second straight day.
"I'm just soaking it in, having a good time," Hahn said. "Any time that I play a good round, it feels good and makes me cherish the momentum a little bit more, because I know they're few and far between."
He had a brief, combative college career at the University of California — "Let's just say extracurricular activities got in the way." — and took a long, slow path to the PGA Tour. He won twice on the Canadian Tour in 2009 and spent the last three years on the Web.com Tour, winning an event last season and finishing fifth on the money list to earn a PGA Tour card.
"I just worked harder than everybody else," said Hahn, coming off a tie for 67th last week in Hawaii at the Sony Open. "I wasn't doing anything right really the first couple years, but eventually I figured it out. Just going through trial and error is pretty much how I learned to play professionally. And to this day, I still go on YouTube for swing tips."
He put together a highlight reel of his own Friday on the par-5 fifth hole at La Quinta Country Club, blasting a dead-straight drive, and hitting his second shot so pure that it went a little farther than he wanted. Undaunted, he turned to his trusty 54-degree wedge and holed a 30-foot, bump-and-run chip for eagle — part of a late birdie-eagle-birdie run.
"It was a long-drive stat hole, so I kind of came out of my shoes a little bit," Hahn said about his 310-yard poke on the tree-lined hole.
That left him 220 yards, and he figured a smooth 3-iron was his best play
"I didn't want to really overpower a 4-iron," Hahn said. "I had a lot of adrenaline."
He made perfect contact.
"Just hit it too good," Hahn said. "Hit the center of the green, landed it 220, rolled to the back. ... I could have hit it with a 6-iron and probably hit it within 2 feet."
It didn't matter when the chip rolled in.
"I read the break perfectly, broke about 2 feet straight down the hill," Hahn said.
Hahn finished with a 5-under 67 to match Roberto Castro at 14 under after another day of perfect conditions in the Coachella Valley. Castro shot a 67 on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course after they began the round tied for the lead with Jason Kokrak at 63.
Castro had the lead alone at 16 under, but bogeyed two of his last three holes — three-putting the par-4 ninth.
"A couple slipped away there at the end, but yesterday I made a 50-footer on the last," Castro said. "Today, I felt like I hit a good putt and three-putted. So, that's stuff over 72 holes that's going to even out."
Castro is in his second season on the tour. The 27-year-old former Georgia Tech player missed the cut last week in Hawaii in his first start of the year.
"I learned a lot last year," Castro said. "One of the best things that happened to me was making a lot of the cuts early in the year. I didn't have any big finishes, but I got to play four days and I got to learn pretty quickly. I got to play with some good players and watch what they do."
Darron Stiles, Scott Stallings and Richard H. Lee were 13 under, all shooting 65. Stiles and Stallings played at La Quinta, and Lee was on the Palmer course. Kokrak had a 69 on the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for sixth at 12 under.
Phil Mickelson shot a 67 on the Nicklaus course after opening with a 72 at La Quinta. The tournament winner in 2002 and 2004, he was nine strokes behind the leaders and two strokes off the projected cut Saturday.
"The last two holes were the first time that I actually hit solid shots and my rhythm felt good and I made good wings," Mickelson said. "I've been quick from the top. My rhythm has been off and I've hit a bunch of squirrelly shots. I made a lot of rusty mistakes."
The tournament is his first since tying for second in early November at the HSBC Champions in China, the only event he played after the Ryder Cup. He plans to play five or six straight events, a run that will end at Riviera or the Match Play Championship.
"I really want to build some momentum here on the West Coast," Mickelson said.
Russell Henley, the Sony Open winner Sunday in his first start as a PGA Tour member, had a 69 at the Palmer course to reach 11 under. He shot a 64 on Thursday at the Nicklaus course, and is 35 under in his first six rounds this year.
DIVOTS: The Palmer course had the highest scoring average the first two days at 69.596. La Quinta was next at 69.529, and the Nicklaus course the lowest at 67.923. ... Mike Weir, the 2003 champion, followed his opening 67 at La Quinta with a 75 at the Nicklaus course to drop into a tie for 130th in the 156-man field at 2 under. The Canadian has missed 16 consecutive cuts and finished only one tournament — a tie for 70th in the AT&T National in July 2011 — in his last 28 events. The top 70 and ties after the third round will play Sunday at the Palmer course.