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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Mike DiGiovanna

Joaquin Niemann sets 54-hole course record, leads by three strokes at Riviera

LOS ANGELES — Fans at the 10th green at Riviera Country Club began chanting Joaquin Niemann's name after the 23-year-old Chilean drained a 22-foot putt from the fringe for an eagle, another in a bagful of great shots Niemann has hit during his three-day assault on the iconic Pacific Palisades course.

"Nie-mann! Nie-mann!" the gallery cheered. "We are not worthy!"

Most of the golfers in the Genesis Invitational field know exactly how those fans feel. Niemann has been in a class of his own for three rounds, shooting a three-under-par 68 on Saturday to set a 54-hole course record and take a three-stroke lead into Sunday's final round.

After blistering the course with eight-under-par rounds of 63 on Thursday and Friday, Niemann stood at 19 under, his three-day score of 194 breaking the 54-hole record of 196 set by Mike Weir (2004), Dustin Johnson (2017) and Justin Thomas (2019).

Only three other golfers — 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie Cameron Young (16 under), 24-year-old Norwegian Viktor Hovland (13 under) and Thomas (12 under) — are within eight shots of Niemann, whose only tour win was at The Greenbrier in 2020.

Collin Morikawa of La Cañada, who played his final 16 holes in five under without a bogey, is fifth at 11 under. Santa Clarita's Max Homa — the defending tournament champion who sank a 61-foot putt for eagle on the first hole — Scottie Scheffler, Maverick McNealy and Marc Leishman are tied for sixth at 10 under.

"Yeah, I'm having the best time of my life right now," said Niemann, who reached 21 under with his eagle on No. 10. "I just try to keep it calm, but yeah, I'm enjoying it a lot, and I just can't wait to have a good day [Sunday]."

With a strong final round, Niemann could break the Riviera tournament record, a 20-under-par 264 posted by Lanny Watkins in 1985. Among the fans in attendance that weekend was a 9-year-old Tiger Woods.

Niemann, who could become the first wire-to-wire winner at Riviera since Charlie Sifford in 1969, had a few slips Saturday, failing to hit a fairway in his final eight holes, with two of his errant tee shots leading to bogeys on 12 and 15.

But he positioned himself for history with good iron play, solid recovery shots and another strong day on Riviera's slick greens, hitting birdie putts of 7 1/2 feet (No. 1), 10 1/2 feet (No. 5), 25 feet (No. 7) and 12 feet (No. 8) to go with his 22-footer for eagle.

"My speed has just been so good," Niemann said of his putting. "That helps a lot on these types of greens that are so fast that every putt can run away from the hole."

The 6-foot, 154-pound Niemann closed the day with a par on 18, and he displayed the kind of shot-making ability that has made him so formidable this weekend.

After his tee shot on the 472-yard par-four hole went into the rough to the right of the fairway, Niemann curved a nice fade around several huge eucalyptus trees to the rough on the back of the green, 52 feet away from the pin. Niemann chipped to within 3 1/2 feet and made the putt for par.

Young, who started Saturday at 14 under, closed to within one shot of Niemann with a birdie on No. 3 and was two strokes back at 17 under when disaster struck at the 152-yard, par-three 16th hole.

The former Wake Forest star sailed his tee shot into a greenside bunker that he was unable to blast out of on the first try. His second slash with his sand wedge — and third shot of the hole — got him onto the green, six feet from the hole, but he missed that putt and settled for a double bogey, dropping him to 15 under.

But Young rebounded with a birdie on 17 and a par on 18, putting him within striking distance of his first PGA Tour win in his 12th career start.

"Anytime you start Sunday three back, whether you're in 10th or second place, you have a chance," Young said. "Anybody out here can shoot an eight or nine under, and you just never know when it's going to be you on a Sunday.

"I'm still right there. I've got one guy ahead of me. He's a great player, and I know he's playing really well, but you just never know what can happen. That three-shot lead can be gone in a hole … so we'll just have to see."

Hovland, who started the day at seven under, hit 16 of 18 greens and had eight birdies in his six-under round of 65. For the third consecutive day, he took an unorthodox approach on No. 15, a 474-yard, par-four that doglegs to the right.

Instead of hitting a fade to turn the corner of the fairway, he drove a 311-yard tee shot into the fairway on 17, which runs to the right of 15, one television announcer calling it the "HOV lane."

The strategy worked beautifully, as Hovland reached the green with his 180-yard approach, but he three-putted for a bogey.

"The [fairway] bunker on 15 is such a severe penalty, so basically I'm taking that bunker out of play by going to the right," Hovland said. "That's about it."

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