Jon Rahm takes command at Riviera with chance to return to No. 1 in world

AP photo by Ryan Kang / Jon Rahm tees off on the fourth hole at Riviera Country Club during the third round of the Genesis Invitational on Saturday in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — Jon Rahm has a game for wherever he plays, from his native Spain to Dubai, Hawaii or California.

That's what makes the final round at Riviera Country Club so daunting for the few people left who have a chance to catch him.

Rahm played bogey-free golf Saturday in the Genesis Invitational, pulling away from Max Homa and Chattanooga native Keith Mitchell late in the third round by keeping that clean card. One last birdie on the closing hole gave him a 6-under-par 65 and a three-shot lead, at 15-under 198, over Homa.

At stake for Rahm is a chance Sunday to return to No. 1 in the world, a ranking that would fit the level of his play for the past six months. But this is the PGA Tour, and he was taking nothing for granted.

"Somebody is going to shoot a round of 4, 5, 6, 7 under. It happens every single tournament we play in, so I have to be aware that somebody is going to make a run, and I'm going to have to shoot a 60s round for sure to give myself a chance to win," said Rahm, who needs a victory to go from No. 2 to back to No. 1, a spot currently held by Scottie Scheffler. "Just aware that I need to keep doing what I've been doing."

What he has been doing is being the best player in golf over the past six months. Dating to the DP World Tour's BMW PGA Championship last August, the 28-year-old has finished among the top 10 in nine consecutive tournaments, winning four of them.

Homa — who grew up about 30 miles away, attended this tournament as a kid and then won it two years ago — started with a one-shot lead and stayed step for step with Rahm. Along with Mitchell, that final threesome combined for 12 birdies and no bogeys through 14 holes on a day when the course played to a 70.31 average.

"I messed that up," Homa said with a smile.

He hurt his own chances, though certainly not confidence. Homa took a bogey from the fairway bunker on the 15th, the hardest hole at Riviera, and then missed another par putt from 10 feet after finding a bunker on the par-3 16th.

He shot a 69, which was enough to give Rahm an edge, not that he needs much of one.

Homa, 32, has six career victories on the PGA Tour — three of them in the past nine months — and he has come from behind in all but one of them.

"It gives me confidence, I guess. It's a bit of a different test with Jon. He played very flawless golf today," Homa said. "But I feel like I have haven't really matched everything up yet this week minus the first day, and even then I felt like I could have driven it a little better.

"I'm encouraged. I'm excited to do that tomorrow. I'm going to have to play a really good round of golf."

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).

Mitchell's only two mistakes were a bad drive into the bunker on the par-5 17th — it kept him from reaching the green — and the drive on the 18th that led to a par putt he missed.

"To play 16 good holes without making a mistake is really all you're looking for in the last group on Saturday," Mitchell said. "Jon played amazing, so I'm going to have to really do something special tomorrow to catch up to him."

The 31-year-old Baylor School graduate won the Honda Classic in March 2019 for his first PGA Tour win. He's still seeking his second, but he had six top-10 finishes during the 2021-22 schedule and already has two this season, including a tie for fourth two weeks ago at Pebble Beach.

Of the three other Baylor grads in the Genesis Invitational, Luke List was next on the leaderboard, tied for 18th at 4 under after a 68 that moved him 15 spots up from the second round. Stephan Jaeger (71) was tied for 26th at 3 under, and Harris English (72) was tied for 33rd at 2 under.

Tiger Woods lost ground, even if the 15-time major champion looked good doing it. Woods had a tap-in eagle on his way to a 67, his lowest Saturday round in an official event since he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in October 2019 to match Sam Snead's record for PGA Tour victories with No. 82. Even so, he was 12 shots back.

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 last April. Then again, he played only three times last year because of his right leg, which was severely damaged in a February 2021 car crash.

The 47-year-old 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 lining the fairway over the next five hours.

Woods made a few birdies on the back nine, and then hit a 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 next to the cup before settling three feet away for an eagle. His only bogey came at the seventh.

"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 tomorrow," Woods said. "I might be a little far away."

That leader is Rahm, and it's daunting regardless of the margin.

He is in range of the oldest 72-hole scoring record on the PGA Tour: 20-under 264 by Lanny Wadkins in 1985.

All that matters to Rahm is another victory that would give him the ranking that his game embodies at the moment.