LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — When no one from the morning draw shot better than a 5-under 66, Joaquin Niemann had a clue how Riviera was playing Thursday.
He was so focused on hitting the ball in the Genesis Invitational that he didn’t even notice the other players. Niemann finished his round with an 8-under 63, matching the low score for the first round at Riviera and taking a three-shot lead.
He admitted, “Sometimes I think about a score.” “I had so much joy simply getting into the shot today because I was hitting it so well.” I didn’t give the score any thought. However, on the 18th, I was considering… I was desperate to make birdie. “I really wanted to make another one.”
Niemann is the seventh player to start with a 63 at Riviera, a list that dates back to Charlie Sifford in 1969 and includes J.B. Holmes in 2019. Four of the previous eight players who started with a score of 63 went on to win the tournament.
“You put in a lot of effort to have these kinds of days. You always know that these days will never happen four times in a row. It’s a good place to start, according to Niemann. “I know there will be different days during the week, so I have to be prepared for anything and keep a positive mindset.”
Jordan Spieth had seven birdies on his way to a 66, which included Scottie Scheffler, the Phoenix Open winner, and Max Homa, who had one of several memorable moments on the first tee.
Tiger Woods, the tournament host, went from being a 15-time major champion to being the first player off the tee. He wanted to present Aaron Beverly, who qualified for the elite field thanks to the Charlie Sifford exemption. The tournament commemorates the 100th anniversary of Sifford’s birth, when he became the first Black golfer to win on the PGA Tour.
It was a fresh experience for Homa on a familiar course. He grew up in Southern California and frequented the Riviera PGA Tour event. When he won last year, he had to hold back tears. And he was a touch worried when he walked up to the tee, knowing he’d be announced as the reigning champion.
“It was enjoyable. “I received a standing ovation,” Homa remarked. “Playing with two amazing people, two of the greatest players of all time, added a little to that.” But it was entertaining. I’ve been on this tee a million times now, watching and playing, and it was quite special to hear that.”
He was paired with Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott, both of whom have won at Riviera in the past. Johnson hasn’t won since the Saudi International in more than a year, and it doesn’t appear that will change anytime soon. He scored double bogey on the 10th hole by moving from the fairway bunker to the back slope of the greenside bunker, chipping it to a flatter lie, and leaving the next one in the sand. He started off with a 73.
Another LA native, Collin Morikawa, and Justin Thomas were among others who died at the age of 67. Even in ideal conditions — bright sunshine and low breeze — everyone but Niemann was kept in control.
Half of the field was below par.
Even if he had reason to believe his 69 was considerably worse, that included Jon Rahm, the world’s No. 1 player.
In the statistics category that measures play from tee to green, he came in second to Niemann. Only four players struggled with their putting.
When Rahm scored a 4-foot birdie on the par-4 eighth, his 17th hole of the day, he raised his arms in faux triumph. He made his second-longest putt of the day. The longest came on the next hole, when he parred with a 5-footer.
The event has been promoted to enhanced status, which means it now has a $12 million purse and a three-year exemption for the winner. When you combine that with Riviera’s veneration, it’s no wonder that all ten of the world’s top ten players are in attendance, as are 19 of the top 25.
That doesn’t mean you’ll be a big winner. Even in his prime, Woods never won at Riviera. Given the location, it would be extremely special for someone like Spieth.
“It would be here if I had to pick one non-major (or) Players Championship to win on the PGA Tour,” Spieth said. “I adore the Riviera. I believe it is arguably… in the running for the best golf course in the world.”
Spieth has one major victory at Riviera, where he was a member of the Texas team that won the NCAA championship in 2012. He seemed like he had a chance to go lower than 66 until a couple of bogeys cost him some momentum.
Scheffler had his first win at the Phoenix Open last week, and he was a little more exhausted than usual, which is a wonderful problem to have.
His round began with a 7-iron to 2 feet for eagle on the par-5 first hole, and he finished with an approach to 4 feet on the ninth.