LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Joaquin Niemann fired nine birdies in his eight-under-par 63 on Thursday to seize a three-shot lead in the first round of the US PGA Tour Genesis Invitational.
The 23-year-old Chilean said the par-71 Riviera Country Club course is one of his favourites on the PGA Tour, and he certainly looked at home there on Thursday.
“I think it’s got to be one of my best days on the golf course, especially in a place like this with this history,” he said of the classic layout in Pacific Palisades west of downtown Los Angeles.
“I hit the ball great off the tee. My iron play, I was hitting it really close so that makes it a lot easier,” added Niemann, who is seeking a second title to go with his win at Greenbrier in 2019.
“The greens were pretty good also today and it wasn’t that windy. So yeah, I think the whole game was pretty good today,” said Niemann, who was three shots in front of a quartet of players sharing second on five-under-par 66.
That group included defending champion Max Homa, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, last week’s Phoenix Open winner Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Young.
World number two Collin Morikawa – who has a chance to seize the top ranking from Spain’s Jon Rahm this week – headed a group on 67 that also included Justin Thomas, Charley Hoffman, Jason Kokrak, Cameron Smith and CT Pan.
“It played tough,” Morikawa said of a course firmed up by unseasonably hot weather early in the week. “There’s some pin locations out there and you just can’t miss in
“I felt like I was swinging it well and then sometimes I would just miss in the right spots and that’s what you have to do.”
Spieth also got off to a hot start on a chilly morning, opening with birdies at 10 and 11 and rolling in a six-foot birdie at 13. He followed a three-putt bogey at the 14th with a 20-foot birdie putt at the 15th.
Birdies at 17, one and seven put him at six-under, but he gave a stroke back at the eighth.
Spieth, who was runner-up at Pebble Beach earlier this month, said he’d put in a lot of work on the practice green since finishing tied for 60th at the Phoenix Open last week.
“It was nice to kind of feel like that hard work paid off by getting a break there on the first couple holes,” said the world number 14. “I’ve been striking the ball really well, got a little off on the weekend last week but this whole stretch, really for the last six months I’ve been striking the ball really nicely. It’s just been about having the putter heat up.”
Spieth played in the same group with fellow Texans Scheffler, who claimed his first PGA Tour title in a playoff in Phoenix.
Scheffler had four birdies and an eagle at the par-five first hole, where his second shot left him less than two feet.
Scheffler was enjoying the benefits of his recent win, notably a slightly later tee time in a marquee group that also featured Rahm.
“I definitely got a different pairing, finally got out of the first off group, so that was nice,” Scheffler said.
Rahm, who heads a list of the top 10 players in the world in the field for the tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, carded a 69 to join a group that also featured world No 5 Rory McIlroy.
Third-ranked Patrick Cantlay – who also has a mathematical chance to topple Rahm from number one this week – opened with a 70 while world number four Viktor Hovland signed for a 71.