Shane Lowry was left to rue some early season rust as he fell six shots behind JB Holmes and Harris English in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
The word No 44 picked up a couple of early shots to get to five under par but came home in three over for a level par 72 on a day of tough scoring on a firm South Course.
English led by as many as three shots early in the day until he double bogeyed the fourth and dropped another shot on the 16th, carding a 73 as Holmes produced a joint best of the day 68.
At nine under, the two eaders are just one stroke clear of a group of five players — Lucas Glover, Jimmy Walker, Spencer Levin, Chad Campbell and Nick Watney — with Humana Challenge winner Bill Haas and Australia's Jason Day in a five-strong bunch ust two behind on seven under.
Lowry was pleased to putt well, make birdies and shoot a five under 67 on the easier North Course on Friday and go into the weekend just outside the top 30 in his first start in two months.
But having done the hard part by recovering from a bogey at the first with birdies at the 200-yard third (144-yard tee shot to two feet from the forward tee), 488-yard fourth (192 yard approach to 11 feet) and par-five sixth (30 yard bunker shot to three feet), not to mention a par-save from eight feet at the fifth, he was a little disappointed only to post a level par 72.
Having made great par saves at the 10th, 11th and 12th, he could only par the par-five 13th and then sandwiched two more good saves at the 15th and 16th between bogeys the 14th and 17th.
"I bogeyed the first and got it back with a few good birdies, so it was disappointing to finish the way I finished because I thought that at five under and with two par-fives to finish, if I could get to six under in the clubhouse I think I'd have a shot at it tomorrow," he told Sky Sports.
"But it was not to be. As you said, it's my first start in two months, so I am happy enough."
Web.com Tour — Seamus Power missed his second successive cut by a shot on the second tier US Tour, adding a 72 to his opening 71 in the weather-delayed Colombia Championship at Bogota Country Club.
The 27-year old West Waterford man also missed by a shot in his first start of the season in Panama.