Chris DiMarco goes deep in the desert

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- As Chris DiMarco stepped out of the scorer's trailer at the Humana Challenge on Friday, he was met by two PGA Tour officials who needed to whisk him away for the tour's random drug testing.

His playing partner, Kevin Chappell, had been ecstatic when the FBI-esque drug police said they weren't looking for him.

"Shoot one good round and I have to go pee in a cup," said a half-joking DiMarco, who had nine birdies and one bogey in perfect conditions after a shooting a second-round, 8-under 64 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West.

It's been a long time since the 43-year-old former Florida Gator has been in any kind of demand on the PGA Tour. Before rebounding last season to finish 113th on the tour money list, he had failed to end a season inside the top 125 for three straight years.

Though he's only won three times since settling on the PGA Tour in 1998, he was for years one of the most consistent players in the world. During one five-year stretch from 2002 to 2006, he was ranked in the top 10 in the world for 61 weeks. Over that period he had runner-up finishes in the Masters, the PGA Championship and the British Open.

But beginning in 2007, he began having health problems, starting with shoulder surgery that season and wrist problems two years later.

"This is the first year in a while where I have been healthy," said DiMarco, who's tied for eighth after 36 holes. "The problem with golf is that you have to play through the injuries. So you tend to work yourself into some bad habits. What you're used to seeing isn't happening as much.

"Your confidence goes a little. But my confidence is really coming back. I'm hitting the ball as good as I have hit it in a long time. When I'm not seeing anything go left, that's when I'm playing really good. I'm able to be real aggressive and I'm looking up and the ball is going where I want it to go and that's always a good thing."

Last week at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where DiMarco finished in a tie for 13th, he had Patrick Turley, a childhood friend, on the bag. Turley previously caddied for Chris Riley.

"Patrick and I have worked really well the first six rounds of the year together," DiMarco said, "and hopefully we can continue forward and do some good things."

As 6-year-old kids growing up outside Orlando, Turley and DiMarco played some of their first golf together with their fathers.

"Chris is a competitor," Turley said. "I don't know if he's ever really had a coach. His game is all-natural. He's a gamer. He doesn't back off."

At the Sony, DiMarco put the new Ping I-20 driver in the bag, and on the measuring holes for PGA Tour statistics on Friday, his drives were over 300 yards.

"I was never a great driver of the ball in my really good years on tour," he said. "I'm now a much straighter driver of the ball than I used to be."

In Friday's second round, DiMarco took full advantage of the pristine weather and friendly scoring conditions.

"You got to have one of these eight- or nine-under rounds to contend here," he said. "I think I put myself in position at least to see the leaders for the next couple days."

With co-leader Ben Crane backing up his opening-round 65 with a 63 on Friday for a two-day total of 16-under, DiMarco is 4 shots back at 12-under par. Playing on the Palmer course, Crane had one par on his first nine holes that included two bogeys, an eagle and five birdies. For the week, the 35-year-old Oregonian has three eagles, all on par-5s.

Crane is tied for the lead with David Toms and Mark Wilson. Toms shot a 65 on the Nicklaus Private course, where Ryan Moore tied the course record with an 11-under 61 to get into a tie for 14th. Wilson carded a 63 on the Palmer course on Friday.

With rain in the forecast for Saturday, scoring conditions could be more difficult. The cut will be made after 54 holes and right now Phil Mickelson, in a tie for 124th after a 3-under 69, is probably going to need to shoot 10 under on Saturday to advance to the final round on Sunday.

DiMarco hopes he can be there at the end on Sunday with former President Bill Clinton, holding the winner's trophy with the confidence that he might have a second prime in his career.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.