MEXICO CITY: Chile’s Joaquin Niemann fired 10 birdies and an eagle in a 12-under par 59 Friday in the first round of the LIV Golf season-opening event at Mayakoba in Mexico.
Niemann stole the spotlight from Masters champion Jon Rahm, the newest recruit to the league entering its third season amid ongoing negotiations to bring it together with the PGA and DP World Tours.
In LIV’s shotgun start format, Niemann teed off on second hole of the par-71 El Camaleon course, opening with a par before he birdied seven of his next eight holes.
At the par-four 11th, his second shot from the fairway found the green and hopped into the cup for an eagle and he added birdies at 13, 15 and 17 — where he landed a shot from the rough within five feet.
Niemann parred his last three holes to notch the second sub-60 round ever on the LIV Golf circuit. Bryson DeChambeau carded a 58 to win the LIV Golf Greenbrier title in August.
“It was obviously an amazing round,” Niemann said. “I played solid since the beginning and I never stopped playing good.
“It was good to hit good tee shots on the last couple holes where they’re kind of tricky, especially 16, 18, and No. 1. I gave myself a few chances also the last couple holes to go even lower, but yeah, still really, really happy.”
Niemann said he knew early on a low score was on the cards, but as the birdies piled up he didn’t do the calculations on whether he was heading toward something under 60.
“I knew that the course could have been (par) 71, could have been (par) 72. But I didn’t want to do the math and start counting how many par-fives and par-threes there is on the golf course.
“Then I got to 18 and a few guys were shouting, Come on, Joaco, go for the 18, and I was like, wow, I’m right there.
“I missed that putt on 18; it broke a lot more than I thought. But I hit a great tee shot also on No. 1, gave myself a good number. I just mis-hit it a little bit and misjudged the wind.”
Sub-60 rounds remain rare. There have been 12 on the US PGA Tour, one on the LPGA Tour and one on the European Tour.
Niemann had a five-shot lead over American Patrick Reed with Spain’s Sergio Garcia in third on 6-under.
World No. 3 Rahm was in a tie for fourth on 5-under and called it a “successful” start to his LIV career.
He said he “would have bet a lot of money against a 59 here this week” because of the tight fairways and tricky rough.
“I don’t know what his stats were,” he said of Niemann. “He must have hit fairways or made a lot of putts. Whatever it is, it’s a heck of a round.
“What is it now, 23 LIV Golf events, there’s a 58 and a 59?” Rahm said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
As stunning as Niemann was, however, Rahm noted that with two more rounds to play in the 54-hole event he wasn’t unbeatable.
“You still need two more rounds,” Rahm said. “Obviously we’re going to have to approach 20-under par, and it’s doable.”