Rocket Mortgage Classic final round preview: Joaquin Niemann looking to secure second PGA Tour win

The Chilean shares the lead with Troy Merritt heading into the final round at Detroit Golf Club.

Best bet

Joaquin Niemann 2/1

Richy Werenski 40/1

Early success can be a wonderful thing, but the problem is that it's hard to maintain.

Chile's Joaquin Niemann knows a little bit about that quandary.

He was the world's number one ranked amateur for 44 weeks as a teenager and then he finished sixth at the PGA Tour's Texas Open in his first start as a professional.

Only he, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm have ever earned PGA Tour cards without visiting KFT Finals after starting a season with no status, and a year later he won his first PGA Tour title at 20, becoming the youngest international winner on the circuit since 1923.

That's some CV (and elite company to be keeping) so it was perhaps no surprise when a hangover of sorts followed.

Indeed, in 14 of the 20 starts immediately after that breakthrough win, Niemann failed to make the top 40.

But if a dip was inevitable, so too was a return to his base level: his last 22 strokeplay starts have seen him play four rounds every single time bar one.

He's back, it has fuelled a rise to 30th in the world rankings, and next on the agenda is win number two.

He opened 2021 with a fast-finishing lap of 9-under-par 64 to force a playoff at the Tournament of Champions, but lost out to Harris English.

A week later he was bang in the hunt all week before again finishing second at the Sony Open.

Either side of that Hawaiian fortnight he found himself in second again early in the week at the Mayakoba Classic and the Genesis Invitational, but couldn't last the pace.

Is he frustrated that the second win hasn't come yet?

After carding a 4-under-par 68 at Detroit GC to end the third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic tied for the lead with Troy Merritt on 14-under 202, he insisted not.

"You've just got to be patient," he said. "I think everybody's going to have their own moment and I had my moment pretty early.

"I'm not getting stresses about Hawaii. I know that if tomorrow I have a good day, I can win, and if I don't, there will be another week when I could have my chance to win."

Has he matured since that maiden triumph?

"I think a lot," he said. "It's been like two years. My game and my attitude on the course is getting every time better which I'm really proud of."

With 11 players within three swings of Niemann and Merritt, and low-scoring a given on the course, there is plenty of potential for volatility in the final round.

Hank Lebioda and Cam Davis share third, one back of the leader on 13-under, Brandon Hagy is alone in fifth.

It's a slightly vulnerable quintet, chased by six performers with multiple, or recent, wins on the PGA or European Tours: Jason Kokrak, Kevin Kisner, Richy Werenski, Pat Perez, Chris Kirk and Tom Lewis.

Let's take a closer look at the contenders.

Joaquin Niemann - co-leader on 14-under

He's always been a fine striker of the ball from the tee box and he admitted after the third round that the course plays into his hands in that respect: "You hit a lot of drivers here and if you hit the driver well, you're hitting a lot of wedges which I've been hitting pretty good this week."

The stats don't necessarily back that up: he ranks third in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 40th for Approach. But he's also third for Putting to make up for it.

Niemann, who is bogey-free this week, has only ever held one third round lead, when two clear at the 2019 Greenbrier. He carded a final round 64 to extend the advantage to six.

Troy Merritt - co-leader on 14-under

The 35-year-old is hunting a third PGA Tour victory and first in three years. His third round was boosted when his 5-iron at the par-3 11th found the hole for an ace, an effort that improved his putting stats, not that they really needed the boost.

html) */?>

He leads the field for SG Putting, Putt Average and Putts per Round, atoning for being 26th for SG Tee to Green. "I'm reading the greens pretty well," he said. "The feel is pretty good, so if we can hole a few tomorrow, I think we'll have a chance."

He boasts an excellent record when tied for the lead at this stage. In fact, his three wins have all come from a shared 54 hole lead: the 2009 Mexico Open (on the second tier), the 2015 Quicken Loans National, and the 2018 Barbasol Championship.

The chasers on 11-under

Kokrak is flying high on confidence, with two wins in his last 18 starts, but on a course that requires a lot of birdies, his dreadful putting stats might hold him back (he's ranking outside the top 60 in all three).

Kisner loves the track, saying "I wish we played courses like this all the time." He finished tied third last year, was tied fifth last week, but his putter is a little cool this week too (38th for SG Putting).

Kirk has rediscovered his fine early season touch, but is yet another who might not be holing enough (39th SG Putting).

html) */?>

Lewis is seeking a first win on the PGA Tour, to sit along multiple European Tour success and one KFT victory. He's not landed a top 10 since last August, but he was T12th here last year.

Perez has a very hot putter (second behind Merritt for SG Putting and PPR, tied for Putt Average). He was T10th two starts ago in his quest for a first win since 2017 and first top five in two years.

Werenski is the outsider of the half dozen, but has fond memories of July last year: he contended here (tied third at halfway), finished third at the 3M Open (leading almost all week) and won the Barracuda Championship. He's also putting well (8th for SG Putting).

Niemann is in a strong position, but if Werenski he can find something on the long holes (he's only 1-under on the par-5s all week), he's leading the field on the par-4s and can make a run at the title at a big price.

READ MORE: Irish Open final round preview: Lucas Herbert leads, Tommy Fleetwood chases

Latest Golf Videos