Jon Rahm produced a bogey-free round of six-under to take control of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, while Tiger Woods showed that he’s still got the ability to mix it at the top level with a round of -4, bettered only by Rahm and Denny McCarthy who shot seven-under.
There were more than a few in golf media circles that felt Tiger would’ve been better served missing the cut by one than making it on the number, thereby saving himself the rigours of another 36-hole walk through the Pacific Palisades hills at Riviera Country Club but make it he did.
Starting 11 shots behind sole leader Max Homa, any hopes of a record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour win had long diminished, but there was no sign of the nervy, tired looking player who’d bogeyed three of his last four holes the day before to give himself a nervy wait right on the cut line.
Starting on the 10th hole, he’d hole a 15-footer to get back to level-par for the tournament and sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th to get back to red figures, and he’d par his way to the turn. With huge galleries following once again, he turned back the clock on the par 5 first hole, cutting a 5-iron expertly, just carrying the bunker, and skirting the hole to leave him a three-foot eagle putt that he’d duly dispatch.
Driving the ball as well as he ever has, he’d add another birdie at the fifth to get to -4 for the tournament, and though he’d give a shot back on 7 after a loose approach, he’d card straightforward pars on his closing two holes to improve on his second round by seven strokes.
“Yeah, today was better,” Tiger told the media afterwards, “I felt like I made some nice adjustments with my putting and that was the thing that held make back yesterday. I’ve driven it well the last three days, my iron play was been good. And the firm conditions I like, that’s kind of right up my alley with iron play.”
McIlroy began the day just four back in a tie for seventh despite being far from his best for the opening two rounds, but knew that he’d need improvement in all areas, particularly with the putter. Unfortunately for Rory, a chilly putter was about to turn stone-cold, and the long clubs wouldn’t be much more favourable.
A wide-right off the must-birdie starter was ominous, but he still left himself a six-footer for birdie, but the downhill putt missed the hole by a good four inches and that set the tone for the day. He’d bogey the second, three-putt from six feet for bogey on 11, and bogey the 13th to drop him back to -3 for the tournament, with a succession of makeable birdie putts coming and going before he reached the par 5 17th.
Here, he’d make his first birdie of the day, spinning a wedge to eight feet and holing the putt – his first from outside six feet – but he’d miss another decent birdie look on 18 to post -4, +2 for the day.
Shane Lowry’s fortunes had taken a turn for the better in the second round, though a closing three-putt bogey took some of the gloss off the round, and though he’d get off to a fast start with birdies on the opening two holes, dropped shots at four and 10 brought him back to level-par for the day. He’d pick up another at the par 5 11th, but, like the previous day, he’d three-putt the last to drop him back to -4 and a tie for 18th place.
A strong finish to his second round was enough to see Seamus Power safely through to the weekend, and like Lowry, he’d birdie one and two, but added two more at six and nine with just the one bogey to make the turn at three-under for his round and -4 for the tournament.
Two more birdies came at the 10th and 11th holes, the former a one-inch tap in after his 16-foot eagle putt came to rest directly behind the hole after driving the green. His rapid leaderboard ascent came to a halt at the next, and after pulling his tee shot out of bounds, the resulting triple-bogey seven sent him spiralling back down again.
But it’s testament to the player that Power has become that he immediately rebounded with a birdie-three on the 13th, and added another on 17 to sign for a four-under 67, leaving him best of the Irish at -5 and in a tie for 15th.
But Jon Rahm is the man they have to catch. Starting the day tied with Keith Mitchell and Lee Hodges, and one back of Max Homa, Rahm tied the lead on the opening hole with a birdie when Homa could only make par.
After an astonishing piece of luck on the 17th hole in round two that saw his approach to the par 5 17th rebound off the grandstand and end up with a near tap-in for eagle, he’d get the rub of the green again when wayward tee shots on the second, third and 13th holes all found clearings, and the hottest player in world golf wasn’t in the mood to be charitable in return.
-5 for the day, he’d sink a 24-footer on the 18th to tighten his stranglehold on the tournament and move within touching distance of a return to the top of the world rankings.
Playing alongside Rahm, Homa birdied the third and sixth holes and made the turn just one behind, drew level on the tenth, and then again with a birdie on 13. But back-to-back bogeys on 15 and 16 handed the initiative back to the Spaniard, and could only watch as Rahm drained his lengthy putt on 18, tidying up a nerve-testing six-footer for his own par to post a 69, three back.
Keith Mitchell is solo third at -11, with Patrick Cantlay a shot further back in fourth.
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