Jon Rahm seizes the Genesis Invitational lead; Tiger Woods shoots a 67
The grouping was grand, the spectacle stunning. Three unwavering golfers, not a bogey among them through 14 holes, bunched atop the leaderboard of the Genesis Invitational on Saturday.
Would one separate from the others ahead of Sunday’s final round? One would, and it was Jon Rahm, who riveted Riviera with a six-under-par 65 that included a 24-foot birdie putt on No. 18 punctuated by raising his putter to the sky. Max Homa and Keith Mitchell, it turned out, couldn’t quite keep up.
Rahm, the No. 3 player in the world rankings, posted four birdies on the front nine, two more on the back and had zero bogeys to seize the lead by three strokes at 15-under 198. Rahm is in position to challenge the then-L.A. Open tournament record of a 20-under 264 set by Lanny Wadkins in 1985.
“Sometimes you can get a little blinded because everybody in the group was playing good, especially early on, the first 12, 13 holes,” Rahm said. “We kept looking at the leaderboard and there was a reason why, right? It’s not easy. I feel like we were the only three making putts out there, probably.”
With a video of Tiger Woods playfully handing Justin Thomas a tampon after outdriving him going viral, Woods apologized and barely made the cut at one over par.
Homa, a rising star from Valencia, matched Rahm until missing par putts on Nos. 15 and 16 to trail by three shots at 201.
Mitchell, whose 64 on Thursday set the tone along with Homa, shot a steady 69 that ended with his only bogey. He’s four shots behind Rahm and one behind Homa.
Overshadowed was the stellar round turned in by Tiger Woods, who shot a four-under 67 in front of a substantial and appreciative gallery. He’s nowhere near the trio at the top because he began the day one over par, barely making the cut.
Still, it was his lowest Saturday round since he won the 2019 Zozo Championship in Japan.
“I felt like I made some nice adjustments with my putting and that was the thing that held make back yesterday,” Woods said. “I’ve driven it well the last three days, my iron play has been good. And the firm conditions I like, that’s kind of right up my alley with iron play.”
Perhaps most encouraging was that Woods didn’t have a noticeable limp while navigating the hilly course for a third day in a row. He said this was the best he has played since winning the Masters in 2019.
“The way the golf course is playing, as fast as it is, a flat cut [on a drive] can go a very long way here, so I’ve been able to hit that shot,” he said. “Then with the firm greens, I thoroughly enjoy that for my iron game, and finally made some putts.
“The ebb and flow of adrenaline, I haven’t had adrenaline in my system for a while, so getting the numbers right, that’s taken a little bit of time.”
Photos of Tiger Woods at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club after his seven-month hiatus from the PGA Tour.
The low score of the day was turned in by Denny McCarthy, a seven-under 64 that included an eagle on his first hole at No. 10. He began the day at even par.
“To knock that in, make a two on that hole to start your day feels pretty good,” McCarthy said. “I hit a few more fairways today.”
Patrick Cantlay is at 10 under in fourth place and Gary Woodland is at nine under in fifth. Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open champion, shot five under for the last eight holes.
None of it seemed to pressure Rahm, who is brimming with confidence. He has finished in the top 10 in nine consecutive tournaments, and a victory Sunday would vault him to No. 1 in the world.
“Really proud of today, heck of a round of golf,” he said. “Took advantage of a couple good lies in the rough and made every putt that I needed to keep the round going, highlighted by the one on 13.”
And by the image that will linger, his long birdie on 18 with the clubhouse above spilling over with boisterous spectators.
“I’ve seen that putt hit a million times and we all leave it just a couple, a couple rolls short, so I just wanted to get it there,” Rahm said. “Felt good obviously making it, it’s a huge bonus, right? It’s a difficult hole, birdies are lacking every single year on that hole. To be able to make one and extend the lead going into tomorrow, it’s a big bonus.”
Several players, including Woods and Homa, wore black ribbons on their caps to honor John Paramor, a well-liked longtime PGA rules official who died Friday.
“Even before I came on Tour, John was a beloved character within the game of golf,” Rory McIlroy said. “He was always a friendly face to see out on Tour and I always loved my conversations with him. Yeah, it’s a sad day, but he’ll be very fondly remembered by the whole golf community.”
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