Niemann breaks 36-hole record at Riviera but only leads by 2

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Joaquin Niemann, of Chile, tees off on the ninth hole during the second round of the Genesis Invitational golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

LOS ANGELES – Joaquin Niemann was playing so well and having so much fun in the opening round at Riviera that he didn't want to stop playing. He returned Friday morning and nothing changed except his place in the record book.

His opening-round 63 still fresh in his mind, Niemann started eagle-birdie and kept right on going until he had another 63 to shatter the 36-hole record in the Genesis Invitational.

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All it got him was a two-shot lead going into the weekend, with a quartet of major champions still in the mix and needing Niemann to ease off the gas.

Niemann was at 16-under 126, which broke the previous record set about 20 minutes earlier by Cameron Young, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie who birdied his last four holes for a 62. Young was at 128, at least giving Niemann some company atop the leaderboard.

The previous mark before Friday was 130 by four players, most recently Sam Burns last year.

“I would have thought shooting 11 under, I would have thought that I would probably be leading by five, not five back,” said former PGA champion Justin Thomas, who had a 64 and was five shots behind. “But there's still a lot of golf left.”

Among those who played early, as Niemann and Young did, was two-time Riviera winner Adam Scott. He was at 9-under 133 and felt he was doing everything right. He goes into the weekend needing to make up seven shots.

“I've got a ton of ground to make up. It's not like I'm even close at the moment,” Scott said.

Blame that on Niemann, the 23-year-old Chilean who feels right at home on Sunset Boulevard.

“We got it going pretty good at the beginning,” Niemann said. “I really like the way I handled myself out there.”

Scoring like this wasn't expected at the start of the week, even with the warm sunshine and very little wind. Riviera has held up against the best in the world — and all the world's best are here this week — longer than any other PGA Tour event.

The 72-hole record was set in 1985 by Lanny Wadkins at 20-under 264, and it's the longest such record on the PGA Tour. It might be time for Wadkins to start sweating.

As for those chasing Niemann, no one has reason to concede.

“I just keep doing what I’m doing and I have a pretty good feeling I’ll be fine,” Thomas said. “It's just ... I said it like five times, there's a lot of golf left and this golf course is going to get tough this weekend.”

Jordan Spieth three-putted the final hole for his only bogey in a round of 67, leaving him tied with Scott. British Open champion Collin Morikawa had a 67 and was eight behind.

“I think it’s still very doable. I’ve just got to go out there and play hole by hole, shot by shot and see what happens for the third and fourth round,” Morikawa said.

Niemann hit it close Thursday — all but one of his nine birdies was inside 10 feet — and Friday he holed four birdie putts from 15 feet or longer, including a bonus 40-footer on the 12th.

The field featured all 10 from the top 10 in the world and 19 of the top 25. Not all of them will be around for the weekend, starting with Dustin Johnson, who had to play bogey-free for a 31 on his final nine holes just to 71.

Johnson was the last player to challenge Wadkins' scoring record. He had such a big lead in 2017 that he played it conservatively at the end. Plus, he didn't know what the record was and didn't particularly care.

Patrick Cantlay, who had a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world by winning, had to make a pair of birdies late to salvage his round for the second straight day. He shot 72 and made the cut with one shot to spare.

The cut was at even-par 142. The 16-shot gap between the top and bottom was the largest since the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where Brooks Koepka had a seven-shot lead going into the weekend.

Young kept this from turning into an early runaway. He already has had a strong start to his rookie season by tying for second in the Sanderson Farms last fall.

He was having a nice round until finishing with four straight birdies, all inside 10 feet, a couple of them involving tough pins. The easiest shot was his 1-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole to cap off his 62.

The bonus was on No. 8, which has a split fairway divided by the barranca. That's where Young went off the tee, and while he drew a decent lie, he was still hoping for the best. It rolled out to 8 feet next to the pin.

“For it to end up the right distance is honestly a little bit of blind luck, which doesn’t always happen," Young said. "But today it did.”

Viktor Hovland had a 64 while sticking to his strategy from the U.S. Amateur at Riviera in 2017, taking it well right on No. 15 to the adjacent 17th fairway. He hasn't hit his second shot closer than 60 feet either day, but he made par.

Hovland was at 7-under 135, along with Russell Knox, who had two eagles in the same round for the first time in his career and shot 67.


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