LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Joaquin Niemann fired a three-under par 68 on Saturday to take a three-shot lead at the Genesis Invitational with a record 54-hole total of 19-under 194 at Riviera Country Club.
The 23-year-old Chilean was threatening to make it a runaway when he rolled in a 22-foot putt from off the green for eagle at the 10th hole to move to 21-under for the US PGA tournament, hosted by 15-time major champion Tiger Woods.
He suddenly found himself struggling off the tee, however, and bogeys at the 12th and 15th saw his lead shrink from five strokes over US rookie Cameron Young, who carded a two-under 69 for 197.
Although he couldn’t keep up the torrid pace that saw him grab four birdies in the first eight holes, Niemann was delighted with his effort on the classic course west of downtown Los Angeles.
“I’m having the best time of my life right now,” Niemann said after beating the previous 54-hole record score of 196, set by Mike Weir in 2004 and matched by Dustin Johnson in 2017 and Justin Thomas in 2019.
“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 tomorrow.”
Niemann, ranked 32nd in the world, is chasing a second PGA Tour title to go with his victory in 2019 at The Greenbrier.
“You don’t lead tournaments too often out here, there’s too many good players,” he said. “I think when it’s your week you’ve got to try to do your best and try to stay there, stay in the present and do your best.”
Young, who had barely stayed in touch with Niemann with birdies at the third, ninth and 10th, fell back with a disastrous dobule-bogey at the par-three 16th, where he needed two shots to get out of a greenside bunker.
He rebounded with a birdie at the par-five 17th and was three shots clear of world number four Viktor Hovland of Norway, who had eight birdies in a six-under par 65 for 200.
American Thomas was alone in fourth after a 70 for 201.
World number two Collin Morikawa shook off a bogey-bogey start to card a three-under par 68 that left him on 11-under par 202, capping his round with back-to-back birdies at 17
Young, a graduate of the Korn Ferry developmental tour who is seeking his first PGA Tour title, was impressed by playing partner Niemann – but also encouraged.
“It’s hard not to notice when you look at him running away from everybody. I mean, I was two-under, three-under through 10 and he was running away from me,” Young said.