By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - It has generally been a case of feast or famine for Luke Donald at the Northern Trust Open, but the Briton is not surprised given the unique challenge facing the players at Riviera Country Club.
The iconic par-71 layout which winds its way through the Santa Monica Canyon is renowned for its small greens and shrewd bunkering, leaving a very small margin of error for approach shots.
World number three Donald has recorded five top-15 finishes at the event in 11 appearances, including a runner-up spot in 2010, but he has also missed the cut here on four occasions.
"It's just the nature of this golf course," the Englishman told reporters after firing a five-under-par 66 in Friday's second round to sit just two shots off the early pace. "It's the fine margins between success and failure around here.
"The greens are very tricky. If you get a little bit hot with the putter like I have done the last couple days ... those kinds of things you need to go your way; especially around a course like this where putting and short game is tricky.
"The greens are small, and again, you just have to be a little bit off for it to show up. I think it's just the nature of the golf course."
The five-times PGA Tour champion was delighted with his improvement in the second round, having been two over par after eight holes on Thursday before finishing with an opening 69.
"Coming off a pretty good break, you never know how you're going to deal with being back in competition again," said Donald who is competing for the first time since he tied for third at the European Tour's DP World Tour Championship in November.
"Certainly a big improvement today, ball-striking wise and my short game has been very sharp. I've been excited about that. It's been a big key to my score so far, and I'm excited to be in the mix again."
Donald spent time during the off-season getting advice from NBA great Michael Jordan on his mental approach to sport, but he said those conversations reflected their growing friendship rather than a working relationship.
"In no way am I working with Michael at all," said the 35-year-old former world number one. "We literally are just friends. I try to pick up things from just watching him. I ask him some questions and he gives me answers sometimes.
"Certainly it's not like a working relationship. It's just nice to have access to someone who was that great at his sport. I've known Michael for quite a few years. We met through golf in Chicago and the last couple of years, we've become closer.
"We live very close to each other now in Florida and play some golf together. His fiancee and my wife are good friends and we hang out a bit."
Asked if he had gained any particular insight from Jordan, Donald replied: "Play with what you can control, don't worry about trying to hit the ball far, you're one of the best short game players ... nothing too out of the ordinary."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)