Joaquin Niemann held a three-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round at the Genesis Invitational at the historic Riviera Country Club. After shooting 63, 63 and 68, he had set a 54-hole tournament record, but the question on everyone’s mind was “Can this 23-year-old Chilean keep his composure playing one of the best fields in PGA history and win only the second tournament of his career?”
Niemann defied the pressure, holding off an impressive final round charge by British Open champion Collin Morikama to become the first wire-to-wire winner in the tournament since Charlie Sifford in 1969.
Closing with an even-par 71, Niemann took home a check for $2,160,000 and a new Genesis car as he won his second PGA tournament (the first coming at Greenbrier in 2020).
Afterwards Niemann told reporters, “It was a big battle to control my emotions. I was just thinking — I want to win. I want to win.” He had played the course before and was asked what was different this year. “My attitude, how I handled myself.”
PGA legend Tiger Woods, whose foundation supports the tournament, presented Niemann with the trophy after he finished 19 under par, just one stroke off the tournament record set by Lanny Watkins in 1985.
“You can’t take anything for granted with this golf course,” Woods said. “He earned it.” The field included every top-10 player in the world.
Niemann said, “Having Tiger here supports us and supports the sport.” He noted that when he first came to the Riviera, he saw the pictures of all the past winners on a wall. “It will be nice to have my own,” he said, admitting that coming into the weekend, he knew it was going to be hard to hold his two-shot lead.
He shot a 68 on Saturday to take a three-shot lead over PGA rookie Cameron Young (who had a tournament-low 62 on Friday) and a six-shot margin over Viktor Hovland.
Morikawa, who was eight strokes behind on Sunday morning, cut Niemann’s lead to four strokes when he chipped in for an eagle two on No. 10. Niemann was even par through 10, but then responded with an eagle of his own, chipping in for a three on No. 11. This enabled him to survive bogies on 14 and 15, as Morikawa birdied 16 and 17.
If Morikawa had been able to make his 10-foot birdie putt on 18, this would have put major pressure on Niemann to par the hole. But Morikawa’s putt was wide, and he finished in a tie for second with Young. They each collected a cool $1,068,000.
Adam Scott, who won the Genesis in 2020, fired a 66 on Sunday to tie Hovland for fourth at 14 under. Justin Thomas was sixth at -13.
Niemann, who has won numerous tournaments in Chile, turned pro in 2017. Last year he made the cut in 18 tournaments and finished in the top 25 ten times. Now he starts 2022 with an impressive victory and “the proof that I have the confidence to be up here and to battle with the top players in the world — that I can compete.”