Can anyone catch Joaquin Niemann at the Genesis Invitational?

Joaquin Niemann extended his lead during the third round of the Genesis Invitational Saturday.

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Equal parts awe and annoyance set in when the fate of a PGA Tour event rests on the shoulders of just a single player. What Joaquin Niemann has done through 54 holes at Riviera is damn impressive, but the field of competitors for the title seems whittled down to three. There isn’t as much fun in that. It’s either awesome or annoying, depending on how exciting you want your golf to be.

So it goes when one plays like Niemann has through three rounds. His 19 under total is just one off the 72-hole scoring record at this tournament, one of the longest standing scoring records on the PGA Tour, per statistician Justin Ray. That came one day after Niemann set the 36-hole scoring record. Awe! 

Normally, there’s the potential for a 75 or 76 at Riviera Country Club. Normally no lead out here feels secure. Ask Sam Burns about his back-in 38s on the weekend last year. That’s just not the case at this week’s Riviera. Annoyance! This week’s Riv’ is playing more than a full shot easier than last year. Saturday’s 69.28 scoring average was the lowest round at this event since the Tour began religiously keeping statistics in 1984. Four pros sit at 10 under par, which would have given them a one-shot lead last year and most every year. This week, they’re nine back, tied for 6th.

Tiger Woods warned us that scoring might be easier early on in the event, with the course firming up as the week went on. And that’s happened — it just hasn’t much affected anything. Firm conditions are what pros hold stock in when playing catch-up. It’s why Justin Thomas adamantly repeated “there’s a lot of golf left” Friday night. Well, half of that golf he had “left” evaporated from the final group Saturday afternoon, and Thomas lost two shots to the man he’s chasing.

Niemann reached peak awe and annoyance mid-day Saturday when he calmly eagled the 10th, right in front of Thomas and Cameron Young, who trails him by three. Young made four birdies and one bad swing Saturday, watching his deficit increase in the process.

Breaking records through two rounds is one thing, and it happens on occasion on Tour. But when the pursuit extends to a third day, that’s when you start really annoying the field. Viktor Hovland’s last 48 hours included a stretch of 39-holes without a bogey, during which he marked 15 birdies on his scorecard. You won’t find better golf than that on a course like this. Except for the tip-top of the leaderboard.

“It’s a little frustrating because seven under through 11 holes and I had hardly gained any momentum, or I was peeking a little closer but I was still pretty far behind,” Hovland said. “If they just keep playing the way they do, there’s not much I can do. Should have played better the first day.”

He’s not wrong. Most players don’t look back multiple days with their regret, but that’s what Niemann has done to Hovland, and much of the rest of this field. 

“I’m having the best time of my life right now,” Niemann said. “I’m enjoying it a lot and I just can’t wait to have a good day tomorrow.”

Nothing is guaranteed in golf, and 18 holes still remain between Niemann and his second Tour title. But with the way the young Chilean is playing, a trophy-lifting Sunday looks all but certain to be in his future.

His march to the title begins at 10:25 local time Sunday morning, and it’s sure to be equal parts awesome and annoying. It just depends how exciting you want your golf to be.

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Sean Zak Editor

Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine, currently working on a book about the summer he spent in St. Andrews. You can read about those travels here and catch his latest thoughts on the Drop Zone Podcast:

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