Riviera record beckons for Joaquin Niemann
February 19, 2022
By Ben Everill , PGATOUR.COM
Joaquin Niemann’s Round 3 highlights from Genesis
LOS ANGELES – Lanny Wadkins has sat on the Riviera Country Club throne for 37 years but Joaquin Niemann is coming for him at The Genesis Invitational.
A day after smashing the 36-hole scoring record at The Genesis Invitational, the 23-year-old Niemann took down the 54-hole mark and the Chilean star now stands on the precipice of securing the longest standing active 72-hole tournament scoring record on the PGA TOUR.
Wadkins put up a 20-under 264 at Riviera when claiming the 1985 tournament and it has stood firm since. But Niemann is hunting after his 63-63-68 start left him at 19-under 194 with a round to play.
One should never count chickens before they hatch but the elevated, Tiger Woods hosted Genesis Invitational appears Niemann’s to lose as he sits three clear of rookie Cameron Young (16-under) and six shots ahead of third placed Viktor Hovland (13-under).
Only Justin Thomas (12-under) and Collin Morikawa (11-under) are also within eight shots of his lead. Eight shots is the largest comeback for the tournament, by Ken Venturi in 1959.
Niemann’s 54-hole mark topped the previous 196 from Mike Weir (2004), Dustin Johnson (2017) and Justin Thomas (2019). His 36-hole score of 126 bested the previous halfway record of 130. If he closes on Sunday at the storied Riviera, he will join the greats.
“I'm having the best time of my life right now. 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 said.
“My speed (on the greens) has just been so good this week and that’s the thing that helps a lot… they're so fast and every putt can run away from the hole pretty quick, so the speed has been good.”
Should he go on and win, Niemann will also be the first wire-to-wire winner since Charlie Sifford in 1969. If the Wadkins record falls, the longest standing mark will belong to Payne Stewart’s 264 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational 34 years ago.
After bursting onto the scene claiming his first PGA TOUR win at the Military Tribute at The Greenbrier and joining the International Presidents Cup team as a 20-year-old in 2019, Niemann has since found himself in the shadow of other young players.
Despite starting 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in Hawaii, it was a missed chance last summer at the Rocket Mortgage Challenge that really stung. Niemann shared the 54-hole lead with Troy Merritt but both were bested by Australian Cam Davis in a playoff on Sunday.
Niemann went 72-holes without a bogey, only to make one in the first hole of sudden death to miss out. He believes he’s learned from the experience and intends to enjoy the moments come Sunday at Riviera.
“Rocket Mortgage, I played great golf there. Obviously, I didn't make any bogeys that week. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes things don’t go your way,” Niemann said.
“I think I put myself in with a big chance to win the tournament and it just didn't happen. I’ve just got to learn from that and go with a better attitude the next time you're there.”
But what of the chasers?
Young’s scoring has been prolific also this week yet somewhat overlooked due to the leader. On Saturday the rookie pulled within two shots of the lead before a costly double bogey on the par-3 16th.
The two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner seeks to become the first rookie to win on TOUR since Garrick Higgo claimed the 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree last season.
A former Wake Forest standout with Will Zalatoris, Young leads the field in Strokes Gained: Putting (+8.008) and Driving Distance (313.8) through three rounds and looks to go one better than his T2 earlier this season at the Sanderson Farms Championship - his lone top-10 in 11 previous starts on TOUR.
He’s not ready to hand anything to Niemann just yet.
“Anytime you start Sunday three back, whether you're in tenth or second, you have a chance. Anybody out here can shoot 8 or 9 under and you just never know when it's going to be you on a Sunday,” Young said.
“I'm still right there, I've only 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. Tomorrow that three shots can be gone in a hole and three shots can go the other way in a hole, so we'll just have to see.”