Charles Howell III made it a policy not to pay attention to scoreboards until the end, so imagine his surprise when he walked up to the 18th green yesterday at the Nissan Open and saw his name at the top.

With Tiger Woods well behind him and the leaders faltering ahead of him, Howell surged into the lead with a bogey-free round of 6-under-par 65 to lead by one stroke over Nick Price entering the weekend in Los Angeles.

Howell finished strong with a par save from the bunker on No. 16 and two birdies, the final one after a sand wedge to 12 feet on the historic, 451-yard closing hole at Riviera Country Club.

Woods was closing in on the early lead with flawless play and was 5 under for his round with three holes left.

He nearly whiffed a shot out of thick rough on No. 7, leading to double bogey, and he finished with a bogey when his drive hung on the steep slope of a bunker. He still had a 68 and was only six strokes behind.

"One bad swing cost me a couple of shots," said Woods, who was at 2-under 140. "Overall, I'm pleased with the way I played today -- real solid."

Fred Funk, who had a three-stroke lead to the start the second round, went the other direction in a hurry. He was at 8 under through 11 until a horrid stretch -- three bogeys, followed by a double bogey at No. 15. He wound up with a 74 and was in a large group at 3-under 139.

* CHAMPIONS TOUR: In Lutz, Fla., Mike McCullough shot a 4-under 67 to take a one-shot lead in the Verizon Classic. The nine-year tour veteran has a one-shot lead over Mark McCumber, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and Bruce Fleisher.

* AUSTRALIA: In Gold Coast, Karrie Webb completed a round of 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead over Laura Davies after the second round of the ANZ Ladies Masters.

* MATCH PLAY: Nick Faldo, who qualified for the Match Play Championship with a runner-up finish to Ernie Els two weeks ago in Australia, withdrew from the $6 million tournament that begins Wednesday in Carlsbad, Calif., because of the flu. Phil Tataurangi of New Zealand, No. 66 in the world ranking, will replace Faldo in the field and play Woods in the opening round.

Tiger Woods, at 5 under with three holes to play, had a double bogey and bogey among them and is six shots back.