Rahm limits mistakes to take Riviera lead as Tiger posts 67

Published 10:32 pm Saturday, February 18, 2023

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jon Rahm has a game for wherever he plays, whether it’s Spain or Dubai, Hawaii or California. That’s what makes the final round at Riviera so daunting for the few people left who have a chance to catch him.

Rahm played bogey-free Saturday in the Genesis Invitational, pulling away from Max Homa and Keith Mitchell late in the round by keeping that clean card. One last birdie on the closing hole gave him a 6-under 65 and a three-shot lead over Homa.

At stake is a chance Sunday to return to No. 1 in the world, a ranking that would fit the level of his play for the last six months.

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Rahm was taking nothing for granted.

“Somebody is going to shoot a round of 4, 5, 6, 7 under. It happens every single tournament we play in, so I have to be aware that somebody is going to make a run and I’m going to have to shoot a 60s round for sure to give myself a chance to win,” Rahm said. “Just aware that I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Tiger Woods lost ground, even if he looked good doing it. Woods had a tap-in eagle on his way to a 67, his lowest Saturday round in an official event since he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in the fall of 2019. Even so, he was 12 shots back.

Homa, who grew up about 30 miles away, attended this tournament as a kid and then won it two years ago, started with a one-shot lead and stayed step-for-step with Rahm. Along with Mitchell, that final threesome combined for 12 birdies and no bogeys through 14 holes on a day when the course played to a 70.31 average.

“I messed that up,” Homa said with a smile.

He hurt his own chances, though certainly not confidence. Homa took bogey from the fairway bunker on the 15th, the hardest hole at Riviera, and then missed another par putt from 10 feet after finding a bunker on the par-3 16th. Homa shot 69.

That was enough to give Rahm an edge, not that he needs much of one.

Homa has six PGA Tour victories — three of them in the last nine months — and he has come from behind in all but one of them.

“It gives me confidence, I guess. It’s a bit of a different test with Jon. He played very flawless golf today,” Homa said. “But I feel like I have haven’t really matched everything up yet this week minus the first day, and even then I felt like I could have driven it a little better. I’m encouraged. I’m excited to do that tomorrow. I’m going to have to play a really good round of golf.”

Mitchell made his only bogey on the final hole and had a 69 to fall four behind. The only other player within five shots was Patrick Cantlay (68).

Mitchell’s only two mistakes was a bad drive into the bunker on the par-5 17th that kept him from reaching the green, and the drive on the 18th that led to a par putt he missed.

“To play 16 good holes without making a mistake is really all you’re looking for in the last group on Saturday,” Mitchell said. “Jon played amazing, so I’m going to have to really do something special tomorrow to catch up to him.”

Rahm has been the best player in golf over the last six months. Dating to the BMW PGA Championship on the European tour, he has finished among the top 10 in nine consecutive tournaments, winning four of them.

All that’s left is a return to No. 1 in the world, and he can do that with a victory Sunday.

For Woods, it felt like a win just being back on the PGA Tour for four straight rounds, something he hasn’t done since the Masters. Then again, he only played three times last year because of his right leg severely damaged in a February 2021 car crash.

He made the cut on the number when the second round was completed Saturday morning, 11 shots off the lead and starting on the back nine in one of the last few groups. That didn’t keep thousands of fans lining the fairway over the next five hours.

Woods made a few birdies on the back nine, and then hit 5-iron onto the front of the green at the par-5 first hole, the ball rolling across the firm turf and a few inches next to the cup before settling 3 feet away for an eagle.

His only bogey came at the seventh.

“I wanted to get in touch with the leaders today, I was hoping to shoot something a little bit lower than I did just so I could reach out to them hopefully with a low round tomorrow,” Woods said. “I might be a little far away.”

That leader is Rahm, and it’s daunting regardless of the margin.

The Spaniard was at 15-under 198, one extra shot to work with on Sunday. Also in range is the oldest 72-hole scoring record on the PGA Tour — 20-under 264 by Lanny Wadkins in 1985. All that matters to Rahm is another victory that would give him the ranking that his game embodies at the moment.