ATLANTA – Scottie Scheffler started with a two-stroke lead on the staggered start leaderboard in the Tour Championship. At the end of the day, he more than doubled to five shots over Xander Schauffele.
Scheffler hit the final three holes to hit 5 under 65 at the East Lake Golf Club and improved to 15 under after the opening round of the FedEx Cup Final.
“It’s a little weird,” Scheffler said of starting the round 10 points down with a two-stroke lead. “That’s why I talk a lot about not looking at the leaderboards and stuff like that, because if I try to go out and do my best and pretend like I’m trying to win a regular stroke play event for four days, I think I’ll be in a good position on Sunday afternoon, so that will be my plan going forward.”
Scheffler made his first birdie of the day on the third hole and drilled a 230-yard iron 3 on the sixth par-5 hole and poured a 17-foot eagle putt. His lead grew to as many as six strokes at one point, as Patrick Cantlay, the reigning FedEx Cup champion and winner of last week’s BMW Championship, managed to hit just par 70.
What would it mean for Scheffler to end his season with the FedEx Cup trophy on Sunday? “It would definitely be the icing on the cake for the year,” he said.
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Xander Schauffele Eats East Lake Again
Xander Schauffele exits the 18th green during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Schauffele, who won the Tour Championship in 2017 and has never finished worse than T-7 in his five previous starts here, continued his stellar game at East Lake. He landed 66, a blow better than his career scoring average on the course of 67.2 in 21 rounds. Schauffele is alone five strokes behind Scheffler and one stroke better than US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.
For Schauffele, the key to his round was hitting 10 out of 14 fairways on a day when overnight rain led to preferred fairway lies and rain during the round softened the field.
“I really worried about hitting the fairway on every hole,” he said. “We started each hole as its own tournament and was just trying to get it on the fairway because when you have the ball in your hand, the greens are a little more receptive than usual and you have to be aggressive.”
Joaquin Niemann and Matt Fitzpatrick tie in the low round of the day
Niemann may have finally discovered East Lake Golf Club.
The 23-year-old Chilean is making his third participation in the Tour Championship. In his previous eight rounds of the playoff final, Niemann had broken par only once. He finished the T-27 in 2020 and 29º off the field of 30 men last year.
On Thursday, he started the tournament 2 down on the starting staggered score and improved to 8 down later in the days with an exciting 6 down 64, which tied for the lowest round of the day with Fitzpatrick. Niemann ended his first round by draining a 19-foot eagle putt in the last.
“It was two big shots,” he said. “That shot was a bonus.”
Fitzpatrick was pleased with his 64.
“The bogey-free rounds are pretty much my favorite,” he said. “My game was much better than last week. My coach flew in on Monday after I told him to come on Sunday. So yeah, we got a good job on Tuesday and Wednesday and we definitely felt comfortable today.”
Rory’s Weird Day
Rory McIlroy walks to the 18th green during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy experienced the strangest round of his life on Thursday. The Northern Irishman’s opening tee shot went to the left and he hit a triple bogey. He made two more bogeys on his first five holes, but recovered to make an eagle at six and eight birdies to shoot 3-under-67 at the East Lake Golf Club.
After the eagle, McIlroy’s caddy Harry Diamond told him, “Rory, these are the weirdest six holes I’ve ever seen you play.”
In 773 rounds, McIlroy has never gone without paring the first seven holes of a Tour event. Fortunately, he sunk a 6-foot putt in the seventh.
McIlroy would make just four pars during a rollercoaster round that totaled 67 and left him tied for sixth with Sungjae Im.
Later in the day, when Diamond went up 18, John Wood of Golf Channel reported that he updated his assessment: “Rory, these are the weirdest 18 holes I’ve ever seen you play.”
McIlroy started the first round of the tournament 4 points below the starting score, but it didn’t take long for him to appear out of the tournament as he dropped back to par.
“I started in the worst possible way,” he said. “We were a little unhappy that we started in that big rain earlier in the day. Tried to steer this little peeler onto the fairway at the first full crossing, body still… there’s a lesson somewhere that even when you’re not sure what you’re trying to do, kind of sending full to me is the best way to go. follow.”
McIlroy was proud of the way he fought, but he will start the second round down by eight strokes and need help if he is to win the FedEx Cup for an unprecedented third time.
“I think tomorrow is a very important day for the rest of the pack just to try and get a little closer to where Scottie is,” McIlroy said.
Aaron Wise and his caddy Brian Dilley walk to the 1st green during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Wise is playing with the house money.
The 26-year-old Oregon Duck was the last man to qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday.
Wise declared East Lake his favorite golf course on the PGA Tour, and he proved why on Thursday, shooting a 5-under-65 with no bogey.
Wise played solo in the first group of the day due to Will Zalatoris withdrawing from the tournament with an injury, which meant there would be an odd number of players for doubles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever played alone in a tournament,” Wise said. “It was different. It was interesting to start. I felt a little awkward starting the round, but once I settled in there walking to three tee or something, it felt pretty normal, honestly it felt good because I could go at my own pace and do whatever I wanted. ”
Entering the week in 30th place, Wise started the tournament in a draw, 10 strokes behind FedEx Cup leader Scheffler at the staggered start.
“It’s just one of those things where you almost get it out of your head and try to get the best score possible. But yeah, it’s weird going up seven and I’m 1 down in the round, and I look up and it says 10 down is leading. I’m like, well, no one is 10 under, but I get it,” Wise said. “I would have to play well here to have a chance. But who knows, today was a good start for that, so I hope it stays that way.”
Last place money this week is $500,000 but Wise’s 65 led him to a 14th tieº. There are still three days to go before a FedEx Cup champion is crowned and someone goes home $18 million richer in first prize bonus money. Wise’s plan is to keep Scheffler’s lead and see how profitable a week can be.
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek