By DOUG FERGUSON, Associated Press
Joaquin Niemann set or matched some form of a scoring record at Riviera every day of the Genesis Invitational until Sunday. All he got was the trophy handed to him from Tiger Woods after beating the best field in golf this year.
That was more than enough.
Niemann overcame a few anxious moments and closed with an even-par 71 to become the first wire-to-wire winner at the Genesis Invitational in 53 years, holding off British Open champion Collin Morikawa and PGA Tour rookie Cameron Young by two shots.
The week began with all the players from the top 10 in the world. It ended with a 23-year-old Chilean playing his best golf in a 63-63 start and doing just enough in the final round to win.
“It’s the toughest tournament I think during the year. It’s got the best field, the best players are here and that proves myself that I can be competing with the top guys, I can be up there in the world ranking,” Niemann said. “I think it’s going to give me a lot of confidence for what is coming next.”
Staked to a three-shot lead to start the final round, Niemann’s margin was down to one when he made a 7-foot birdie on the eighth hole and Young sailed the green and made bogey. And then he chipped in for eagle on the par-5 11th, and Niemann was on his way.
“I think No. 8 was big,” he said. “I hit a great shot. Cameron hit it just over the green. I knew it was my opportunity to come back a little stronger, and I started playing the next holes better.”
On a day when Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau said they were staying put on the PGA Tour amid speculation of a Saudi-funded rival league, Niemann spoke of a value worth more than just money.
“Everyone’s here to compete against the best players in the world. I’m here to do the same,” he said. “Winning a PGA Tour event, getting a trophy, having Tiger there, all the history behind it, there’s nothing that can compete with this.”
About the only thing Niemann missed was a chance to break the oldest tournament scoring record on the PGA Tour. With two bogeys on the back nine, Niemann finished at 19-under 265, one short of the score Lanny Watkins had in 1985.
Morikawa holed an eagle chip on the infamous and reachable 10th hole that one-hopped into the cup, and two late birdies gave him a chance. But he missed a 10-footer on the 18th in his bid to win and reach No. 1 in the world. He closed with a 66.
Young, making only his 12th career PGA Tour start, was a runner-up for the second time this season. He also tied for second in Mississippi. He faced Niemann over the final 36 holes and stayed with him, unable to make up the deficit.
“You finish tied for second at Riviera, I can’t complain.” Young said. “I’m lucky just to be here and I know it does some good things for me going forward, so I am happy with the week.”
Given the prestige of the tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, Young earned $1,068,000 for his tie for second. The purse was $12 million.
As for Niemann, the tournament hasn’t had a 23-year-old winner since Phil Rodgers in 1962, the tournament best known for Jack Nicklaus making his pro debut.
Niemann picked up $2.16 million for his second PGA Tour victory.
Charlie Sifford in 1969 was the last player to go wire-to-wire in the Genesis Invitational, significant because the elite tournament — it attracted everyone from the top 10 in the world this week — offers an exemption in Sifford’s name to promote diversity in golf.
This year is the 100th anniversary of when Sifford, the first Black golfer to win on the PGA Tour, was born. The No. 100 was on the first hole.
Niemann carved his own way around the fabled course. The most important birdie was at No. 8. He got plenty of breathing room with the eagle on No. 11.
Young stayed close, even after a bogey on No. 10 when his flip wedge from short of the green failed to clear a bunker. He blasted out nicely to 4 feet but missed the par putt, slamming his bag with a putter as he left the green.
He still had a chance. Young drove into a bunker on the 15th, could only get out to the fairway and then holed out for birdie from 50 yards. Niemann missed a 4-foot par putt and took his second straight bogey, and the lead was down to two with three holes to play.
Young found a bunker for the second straight day on the par-3 16th. It wasn’t plugged like it was on Saturday, but he failed to get up-and-down. He birdied the par-5 17th to get back within two shots and needed some help. Niemann didn’t provide it, splitting the middle of the fairway, hitting to the back level of the green and two-putting for par from just inside 30 feet.
And then the celebration was on as his closest friends — Sergio Garcia of Spain, Mito Pereira of Chile and Carlos Ortiz of Mexico — formed a big group hug on the 18th.