Niemann shoots 64, moves into lead at Jeddah

golf02 March 2024 16:17

Joaquin Niemann shot a 6-under-par 64 on Saturday to take the lead at the LIV Golf Jeddah Invitational in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.

Niemann, who won the LIV season opener at Mayakoba in February, started the round with seven pars before adding six birdies over the final 11 holes.

The Chilean enters the final round at 13-under 127 after his opening round 63 at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. He stands two strokes ahead of Charl Schwartzel (66 on Saturday) of South Africa and three ahead Jason Kokrak (62) and South African Louis Oosthuizen (66).

The first-round leaders – Jon Rahm of Spain and Adrian Meronk of Poland – followed their opening rounds of 62 with 69s on Saturday to fall into a tie for fifth at 9-under 131 with Abraham Ancer of Mexico (63) and Australia's Lucas Herbert (66).

Anthony Kim, playing in his first pro tournament after a 12-year hiatus, shot his second consecutive 6-over 76.

While Kim is working through the rust after the long layoff, Niemann appears to be rounding into midseason form – even if the birdies didn't pile up immediately on Saturday.

"It was just being patient. Everything I was doing, I was hitting it great, I was putting great. I just didn't make birdies," he said.

"Like on No 4 I had a good chance and didn't make birdie there. The wind was playing a little bit more into than normally, so I think it was playing a little bit longer. Then I hit a great shot on No 8 to make birdie there, and I made a great putt on No 9, too, kind of gave me a lot of confidence and momentum for the round."

Also gaining confidence and momentum was Kokrak, who was paired with Ancer. The two were a combined 15-under on the round, and Kokrak said the competition between the two gave him a kick.

"We were definitely feeding off each other. He was making putts. I was making putts. Seemed to birdie a lot of same holes," Kokrak said.

"When you see a good quality shot into a hole, it kind of gives you the confidence to go do the same thing. I was just happy that I hit some quality shots, committed to the lines and targets, and had a good round."

Schwartzel also was pleased with his performance, for the most part.

"Yeah, 80 per cent of my round was really good. There was a few scraps in there, but I managed to save – made good saves," he said. "I kept my round going. But overall it feels like I'm playing better than I have been.

"It's just nice to be in contention and have a chance tomorrow."

Niemann hopes to shut down any chances for his competitors.

"My goal is to win this week," Niemann said. "I know there's a lot of golf to play tomorrow. There's a lot of shots that I've got to hit tomorrow, and I've got to be confident doing those."

In the team competition, Stinger GC moved to 29-under, giving the team anchored by Schwartzel and Oosthuizen a commanding 7-shot lead over Smash GC, which is captained by Brooks Koepka, and Rahm's Legion XIII.