LOS ANGELES (AFP) – World number three Jon Rahm fired a bogey-free six-under par 65 on Saturday to grab a three-shot lead at Riviera, where Tiger Woods thrilled fans with a four-under par 67.
Rahm, who can return to number one with a victory, hit just five of 14 fairways but moved past overnight leader Max Homa, putting himself in position to capture a third US PGA Tour title of 2023.
His 15-under par total of 198 put him three clear of Homa, whose two-under par 69 for 201 kept him one in front of Keith Mitchell, who also posted a 69.
“It’s a great round of golf,” Rahm said. “Really proud of today, heck of a round of golf.”
Rahm opened his round with a birdie at the first, just missing a 12-foot eagle attempt.
He rolled in birdie putts from inside eight feet at the fourth, eighth and ninth.
He rolled in a two-foot birdie at the 11th, to take the solo lead at 14-under.
Homa, who started the day with a one-shot lead, kept the pressure on. He drained a 19-foot birdie putt at the third and added a five-foot birdie at the sixth. He tied Rahm’s lead with a birdie at the 10th and tied him again with a seven-foot birdie at the 13th.
Homa faltered, however, with back-to-back bogeys at the 15th and 16th, and Rahm closed his round with a final flourish – draining a 23-foot birdie putt at 18.
Rahm is seeking a third title of the year after victories at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and at La Quinta, California, in his next event.
His hot start followed a strong autumn in Europe, where he won a third Spanish Open title in October and the DP World Tour Championship in November.
It all has him in position to grab the number one spot from American Scottie Scheffler, who supplanted Rory McIlroy with his Phoenix Open win last Sunday.
While Rahm arrived at Riviera as perhaps the hottest golfer on tour, Woods was a mystery coming into his first event since he missed the cut at the Open Championship in July.
Still severely limited by the right leg injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car accident, Woods had barely made the halfway cut.
He equalled the third-best round of the day behind Denny McCarthy’s 64.
Woods has played just three tour-level tournaments since the crash, finishing 47th at the Masters last April.