Jon Rahm kept mistakes off his card Saturday at Riviera, the difference in allowing him to post a 6-under-par 65 and start to pull away from the field at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles.
Tiger Woods lost ground, too, 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 in 3½ years. Even so, he was 12 shots back.
Rahm capped off his bogey-free day with a 25-foot birdie putt that gave him a three-shot lead over Max Homa, who had a share of the lead until consecutive bogeys from the bunker along the back nine. He had a 69.
Keith 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).
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 the February 2021 car crash that severely damaged his right leg.
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 from 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 from the cup before settling 3 feet away for an eagle.
His only bogey came at the seventh. It was encouraging nonetheless because Woods says he’s still sore walking after his rounds. He only made it to the weekend twice in the three tournaments he played last year, posting rounds of 78 at Augusta National and 79 in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
“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 [Sunday],” Woods said. “I might be a little far away.”
That leader is Rahm, and it’s daunting regardless of the margin.
Rahm was in a terrific battle with Homa, the Southern California native who won at Riviera two years ago. Rahm took the lead by finishing the front nine with consecutive bogeys, only for Homa to catch with a pitch to tap-in range on the 10th and catch him again with a bold play left of the left pin on the 13th.
But it was Homa who blinked first.
He found the fairway bunker on the 15th, the toughest hole at Riviera, came up short of the green and missed a tough 10-footer for par. He pulled his tee shot on the par-3 16th into a bunker and again missed a 10-foot putt for par.
Rahm motored along, making a 12-foot par putt on the 13th and chipping nicely when he did miss the greens to eliminate the stress. He ended with a birdie to reach 15-under 198, one extra shot to work with Sunday.
Champions — Bernhard Langer remained in position to tie Hale Irwin’s Champions victory record of 45, shooting a 2-under 70 to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Chubb Classic in Naples, Fla.
The 65-year-old Langer, the winner last year, had a 10-under 134 total on Tiburon Golf Club’s Black Course after bettering his age Friday with a 64.
Charles Schwab Cup winner Steven Alker (65) was a stroke back with Jerry Kelly (66), Dicky Pride (70), and Paul Goydos (71).
At 8 under, two shots back, were Fred Couples, who shot 69 with bogeys at two par-5s, and Steve Stricker (69), who is seeking a record fourth consecutive PGA Tour Champions victory.
Langer already is the oldest winner in PGA Tour Champions history, having won the TimberTech Championship last fall after his 65th birthday.
With wind blowing steadily beyond 15 miles per hour, Langer had to work hard for his 70. In all, 10 players will begin the final round within three shots of the German star.
European — Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark moved a step closer to his seventh European Tour title after he shot an 8-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead at Thailand Classic in Chonburi.
Olesen made eight birdies in a bogey-free third round at Amata Spring Country Club to reach 18-under 198 overall, two shots in front of countryman Nicolai Hojgaard and Germany’s Yannik Paul.
Joost Luiten of the Netherlands was a further shot back.
Olesen will play in the final group alongside the 21-year-old Hojggard on Sunday in search for his next tour win after capturing the British Masters title last May.
. . .
Thomas Pieters, ranked No. 34 in the world, and past PGA Tour winners Danny Lee and Brendan Steele have signed up to join the LIV Golf League, sources told ESPN.
LIV, which will begin its second season in Mexico next week, is expected to announce their additions when four more team rosters are unveiled Monday. Last week, LIV officially announced that PGA members Mito Pereira and Sebastián Muñoz were moving over.
Pieters, from Belgium, is the highest-ranked player among the newest additions. He has six international victories, including the 2021 Portugal Masters and 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. He played for Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup and tied for 16th in the men’s golf competition at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.
While playing at the University of Illinois, Pieters won the 2012 NCAA individual championship at Riviera Country Club, site of this weekend’s PGA stop.