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Harbour Town is gettable, and Joaquin Niemann scorches it with morning 63

June 20, 2020

Joaquin Niemann plays a shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage.

Kevin C. Cox

The lion's share of attention at the RBC Heritage has been focused on Nick Watney's positive COVID-19 test, but Joaquin Niemann reminded us on Saturday morning that through it all, an actual golf tournament is still being played. The players at the top of the leaderboard have devoured the front nine at Harbour Town all week, and Niemann continued the trend in the day's early wave.

Spectacular iron play left him with four birdie putts inside five feet before he even made the turn, and in the rare moments when he found himself outside kick-in distance, his putter picked up the slack, highlighted by a 22-foot birdie on No. 5. Niemann went out in 30, and though he cooled off on the back nine, birdies on 10 and 16—where the Chilean holed a 21-footer—were enough for a stellar eight-under 63, tied with three others for the best round of the tournament.

"I knew that I could go low," Niemann said. "I like playing the morning. Greens are really good. There's no wind. It's perfect conditions."

Niemann finished 32nd last week at Colonial and remains in the top 20 of the FedExCup rankings after his first PGA Tour victory last September at the Greenbrier. It's his first time playing at the Heritage, but he's taken to it quickly, in part because his draw and low fade fit the shape of the course. He finished his Saturday round holding a one-shot lead at 13 under, though Chris Stroud drew even shortly after, also with a 63, and that number is very unlikely to hold up later. It will take another gaudy score on Sunday to give Niemann his second win of the season, but Saturday's brilliance puts him in with a chance.

Niemann, who played for the International Team in the Presidents Cup last December, has a place in Jupiter, Fla., but went home to Chile after the Tour canceled the Players Championship. He told reporters that he never expected the break to last as long as it had, and quickly succumbed to boredom and frustration because everything in Chile was locked down.

"We're going through really hard times in Chile," he said. "There's like 20 million people in the whole country, and last couple months we've been getting like 4,000 a day of the virus."

He went on to say that he feels safe here in South Carolina despite Watney's positive test, and that the players he's interacted with have been practicing social distancing and obeying the Tour's protocols.