Max Homa in the lead at his hometown PGA Tour event used to give him chills. Now he’s playing so well it almost feels normal.
Homa, a winner last month down the coast at Torrey Pines, ran off three birdies around the turn at Riviera and tossed in a few big par saves Friday for a 3-under 68, giving him a one-shot lead over Jon Rahm, Keith Mitchell and Lee Hodges at the Genesis Invitational.
Tiger Woods will be part of the weekend, even with a sloppy finish and more attention over a juvenile prank than a putter that went cold. Woods finished with three bogeys over his last four holes for a 74.
He was at 1-over 143, leaving him 11 shots behind Homa, but certain to make the cut when the second round is completed Saturday morning. For the second straight day, darkness kept the round from finishing.
Woods, playing elite competition for the first time since the British Open last summer, apologized if anyone was offended by him jokingly slipping a tampon into the hand of Justin Thomas on Thursday after Woods outdrove him by about 10 yards.
“It was supposed to be all fun and games and obviously it hasn’t turned out that way,” Woods said.
Homa and Rahm had their own brand of fun on a crisp afternoon off Sunset Boulevard.
Homa hit wedge to 4 feet to a pin tucked behind the bunker for a birdie on No. 9, holed a 15-foot birdie on the 10th and then chipped beautifully to a back right pin for a third straight birdie on the par-5 11th.
He also saved par from a plugged lie in the bunker and made an 18-foot par putt on the 16th. His round ended with trouble off the tee that led to bogey, but he had no complaints at 11-under 131 and his name atop the leaderboard.
He already has won twice this season, including last month down the coast at Torrey Pines. When he won this tournament two years ago – the one he used to attend as a kid who grew up 30 miles away – he said, “I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this.”
Playing good every week is pretty cool.
“I kind of feel like I should be doing this when I’m playing well, and I am playing well,” Homa said. “Yeah, it’s exciting – 36-hole leads are awesome. Like I said, there’s a long way to go, but regardless, I can rest on the fact I’m playing great golf and I’m just going to try and do that for two more days.”
Rahm is playing even better. He has nine consecutive top 10s dating to September, four of those victories, and he is close to returning to No. 1 in the world.
Even the best need a break every now and then, and Rahm got a big one Friday evening. He went with a 5-wood from 270 yards on the par-5 17th and cooked it, sailing the green toward the back grandstands. The ball smacked off the base of the bleachers, tumbled along the edge of a bunker and settled just over 3 feet away for an eagle.
That capped off a stretch of playing five holes in 5-under par that put the Spaniard right into the mix going into the weekend.
“Obviously, I got very fortunate to get that bounce not only to go on the green, but to have basically 3 feet straight up the hill,” Rahm said. “That’s arguably the best bounce I’ve seen in person my whole golf career and it would be hard to beat in the future.”
He’s seen plenty of great bounces before on various video compilations, and he started reciting some of the bizarre ones, many on the European tour. He’s just never the star of those shows, and so maybe he’ll be in the next video.
“I hope it’s in it,” he said. “If anything beats that, I’d be surprised.”
Mitchell played in the morning, making five birdies to offset a few mistakes. He was in contention two weeks ago at Pebble Beach.
Collin Morikawa (68) was two shots behind, with Patrick Cantlay (67) another shot back. Both grew up some 20 miles from Riviera.
Rory McIlroy had a 69 and was four back.
Canada’s Adam Svensson dropped five spots with an even par day and is now six shots back of the lead. Fellow countryman Adam Hadwin also fell with a 73 to be eight shots behind.
Canadians Mackenzie Hughes (70), Corey Conners (72) and Nick Taylor (74) also made the cut for weekend action.
The stars are out in Los Angeles, part of that due to Riviera, part of that due to the strongest field of the year competing for a $20 million purse.
Woods felt his 74 was as high as it could have been because of his putting, but at least he’s around for the weekend. So his Xander Schauffele, who looked certain to miss the cut until his shot from 173 yards flew straight into the cup on the 17th for an eagle. He made it on the number.