Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches

PGA National (Champion Course)

PGA Tour

Joaquin Niemann and Cameron Young continue to dominate on a peculiar scoring week at the Genesis Invitational

February 19, 2022

Joaquin Niemann can become the first wire-to-wire winner at Riviera since Charlie Sifford.

Michael Owens

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Each of the top 10 players in the world are at Riviera this week, and each of the top 10 players in the world are staring up at No. 32 and No. 113.

This most peculiar leader board at the Genesis Invitational is but another example of the breathtaking depth on the PGA Tour. Joaquin Niemann is hardly a slouch—he’s a past world No. 1 amateur, a PGA Tour winner, a Presidents Cupper and, still just 23. And he's been a mainstay in the world top 50 for the better part of two years. Still, he is not on that Collin Moriakwa-Justin Thomas-Viktor Hovland tier, at least not yet. But that clearly doesn’t mean he’s incapable of blitzing a hyper-elite field on an iconic golf course.

Niemann followed up his back-to-back 63s by keeping his foot pressed firmly on the gas. After an eagle at the finicky par-4 10th, he reached 21 under par—a total that on Sunday would mark the lowest score in tournament history. His three-under 68 on Saturday to be at 19 under put him two clear of the 54-hole scoring record at Riviera, and though he was disappointed to play the last eight in two over par, he remains in pole position to capture a career-boosting victory.

“You don't lead tournaments too often out here, there's too many good players,” said Niemann, who can become the first wire-to-wire winner at Riviera since Charlie Sifford in 1969. “But yeah, I think when it's your week you've got to try to do your best and try to stay there, stay in the present and do your best.”

His closest chaser is another young stud, one non-golf diehards may not have heard of. Cameron Young, who is 24 but looks and carries himself like a man a decade older, is a PGA Tour rookie. His father, David, is the longtime head professional at the highly-ranked Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough-on-Hudson, N.Y., and has been Cameron’s coach all the way through. After a very good but not great career at Wake Forest, Cameron needed just one year on the Korn Ferry Tour before making the jump—and he wasted no time establishing himself on the big tour, notching a runner-up finish at the Sanderson Farms last fall while football dominated the airwaves. With all due respect to that event, the Genesis is in another league, and it’s winning these types of tournaments that elevate a player from the good-young-player category to that aforementioned Collin-JT-Viktor tier. Opportunity abounds.

“I'm having the best time of my life right now,” Niemann said. “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 was eight clear of third after that eagle at 10, the weirdest moment in a very strange scoring week. The average winning score at this event over the least five years is 13 under—that, obviously, will be shattered. But the average cut is around one over, and this week’s number was even par. Niemann and Young's scores are outliers in the truest sense of the word.

“That’s the beauty of this golf course,” said Max Homa, the defending champion who sits tied sixth, but is nine shots back. “If you hit great shots, you’re going to have a lot of great opportunities for birdie, and they’re obviously hitting a lot of great shots. I thought Sam [Burns] played amazing last year, and they’re making him look like a chump. It’s crazy, but you can see it. I wasted a few shots. It’s out there.”

Young was unahppy with his decision-making process on Saturday. He chose the wrong club off 7 tee and saw his tee shot tumble into a fairway bunker. He left a ball in the bunker on the first hole of the day and did it again on 16 after he fanned a short iron and his ball plugged. He then failed to get up and down and made double-bogey, only to rebound with a birdie at 17 and solid par at the last.

“It’s certainly a place that you have to play really well to post a good score and I think Joaquin, he's made a bunch of putts,” Young said. “He's playing awesome golf and it's rewarding. If you're in the right places and you're making putts when you have opportunities, you can shoot a lot under, and I think he's proven that to us all. It's a hard golf course, but if you're on top of it, you can shoot a low score.”

Speaking of that Collin-JT-Viktor tier … they’re the closest chasers. Hovland shot even par on Thursday but has rebounded with rounds of 64 and 65 to sit solo third, six back of Niemann. Thomas birdied his final two holes to get in with a one-under 70 and is alone in fourth, while Morikawa overcame a bogey at the easy par-5 first and another at 2 to shoot three under and enter Sunday eight back.

In a week where the potential Saudi Golf League, which rumors say will include roughly 40 players, has dominated conversation—Niemann, who played in last month’s Saudi International, declined to say whether he’s been in talks with the challengers—this leader board serves as a reminder of one of the more charming aspects of the PGA Tour: that on any week, virtually anyone is capable of a record-setting performance.