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LOS ANGELES — Sam Burns wanted to pay respect to tough Riviera by playing it safe. It led to a 5-under 66 to tie the 36-hole record at the Genesis Invitational and build a five-shot lead among early starters Friday.
Burns kept his bogey-free day in tact toward the end of the round when he came up short of the eighth green, his 17th of the morning. He chipped it about 10 feet short — anything too strong could lead to big trouble — and made the par putt.
He also handled two of the par 5s, and picked up so much roll on the firm turf at the 476-yard 12th hole that he had only a pitching wedge into the green and made a 5-foot putt.
“Whenever we were kind of in a tricky spot, just kind of took what the golf course gave us,” Burns said. “There’s definitely times where I’ve tried to force it a little bit, but this just is not a golf course you want to do that.”
Burns was at 12-under 130, matching the record last set in 2004 by Mike Weir and Shigeki Maruyama.
Tyler McCumber and Jason Kokrak each shot a 68 and were five shots behind. Another shot back was Jordan Spieth after a 68, the third straight week Spieth has been in the mix going into the weekend as he tries to win for the first time since the 2017 British Open.
McCumber is the miracle worker this week. His finger got caught trying to open a window is his hotel room Tuesday, and his best option was for a doctor to remove the nail on his left index finger. He did that Wednesday, hit about five balls and figured he could give it a shot.
“It’s pretty wild how quickly the body does adapt to things,” McCumber said. “I thought it was a little better today just to focus on the golf and not really worry about the finger.”
Riviera injured some of the games best players.
Rory McIlroy made only one birdie in his round of 76 and missed the cut. Justin Thomas followed his opening 77 with a 73 and missed the cut. So did U.S. Open champion Bryson Dehambeau after a 69.
Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay were among those playing in the afternoon.
Burns is a 24-year-old from LSU has what it takes win when it falls into place. He tied for sixth at the Barbasol Championship when he was still an amateur, and it took him only one year on the Korn Ferry Tour before he was in the big leagues. Not its’ a matter of breaking through, and he’s off to a strong start at Riviera.
“I’d like to think that I have all the tools to win out here,” Burns said. “There’s a lot of good players — really, really good players. I try not to get caught up in that and just trying to get better each week.”
Riviera is playing fast and difficult this year with such beautiful weather and occasional gusts of wind. Aside from Burns and his great play over 36 holes, no one else was better than 7-under par.
Going into the afternoon, only five players had two sub-70 rounds in ideal weather.
“It’s one of those rare weeks where you can’t get away with firing at flagsticks,” Spieth said. “There’s not much rough, but when you get in the rough it takes the spin off enough to where you can’t get into pins. A lot of times when you miss the greens, it’s harder to get it closer than where you could have hit your approach.
“It’s such a different experience from what we normally have on tour.”
Spieth was three shots behind going into the weekend in the Phoenix Open, shot 61 and shared the 54-hole lead. He tied for fourth. Last week at Pebble Beach, he had a one-shot lead after 36 holes and led by two going into the final round before tying for third.
Now he’s six shots behind Burns, but in reasonable position on the leaderboard. It’s an upward trend.
“It’s not like you can go chase people on this golf course,” Spieth said. “So I’m happy with where I’m at, but just eliminate a couple of the minor mistakes here and there and try to keep clean cards on the weekend and let the rest of it take care of itself.”