LOS ANGELES — Joaquin Niemann couldn’t find a fairway over the final two hours at Riviera and it didn’t matter. He still pieced together a 3-under 68 to set the 54-hole record and build a three-shot lead in the Genesis Invitational.
Cameron Young, the 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie, tried to keep it closer until taking two shots to get out of a plugged lie in the bunker in front of the par-3 16th green and making double bogey. He had a 69 and was three behind.
Joining them in the final group will be 24-year-old Viktor Hovland, who had eight birdies in his round of 65. That only got the Norwegian within six shots of Niemann.
Niemann, a 23-year-old from Chile, was poised to win for the second time on the PGA Tour and needed only one more round in the 60s to break the tournament scoring record, which has stood longer than any other 72-hole record for a PGA Tour event.
Niemann was at 19-under 194, breaking by two shots the record last held by Justin Thomas in 2017.
Thomas had said there was a long way to go when he started five shots behind with 36 holes ahead of them. He started with a birdie and then made 10 straight pars before a pair of bogeys that sent him and other past major champions going in the wrong direction.
Thomas birdied his last two holes for a 70. He was seven behind. Adam Scott opened with two birdies until he lost momentum and shot 73 to fall 10 shots behind. Ditto for Jordan Spieth, who had only one birdie in his round of 73 to fade from contention.
The final group Sunday will feature three players from three continents who were born after tournament host Tiger Woods won his first Masters in 1997.
Weather in Los Angeles on Sunday looks strong for golf. Highs will be near 70 degrees, and though clouds are likely, rain is not.
Niemann has been playing at a different level this week, relying on a mix of great iron play, putting on hard, fast greens and managing trouble when he gets out of position.
After a pair of birdies late on the front nine, Niemann had one of those moments that made it look like it would be his week. His drive on the iconic, reachable 10th caught the left edge of the green and barely rolled off. Using a putter, he holed it from just outside 20 feet for an eagle and was up by four.
He was 2 over the rest of the way, however, as he failed to hit another fairway, two of them leading to bogey. He also missed on the 18th when Young had a chance to cut into the lead. But the Chilean hit a beautiful fade around the edges of the eucalyptus trees to the back of the green and a chip with perfect pace to save par.
Young twice left shots in the bunker, starting with the par-5 opening hole that led to par. He was rock-solid the rest of the way until the 16th, where his tee shot was so badly buried in the sand his best option was to leave in there for a better lie. He blasted out a little long and missed a 6-foot putt.
For a tournament stacked with 10 of the top 10 players in the world, the one leading the charge is Niemann, who is just outside the top 30 and whose only win was at The Greenbrier in the fall of 2019.
This is only the third time he has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He converted one of them into his Greenbrier win, and the other time he lost in a playoff last summer at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Young is playing only his 12th time on the PGA Tour, including a U.S. Open appearance as an amateur at Pebble Beach in 2019. He was a runner-up in Mississippi last fall, and he played with remarkable poise amid high-profile company while trying to keep in range of Niemann.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.