Scottie Scheffler’s lead grows, Rory McIlroy’s odd day and a pair of 64s among Thursday’s Tour Championship takeaways

ATLANTA – Scottie Scheffler opened with a two-shot lead on the Tour Championship staggered start leaderboard. By the end of the day, he had more than doubled to five strokes over Xander Schauffele.

Scheffler birdied the final three holes to shoot a 5-under 65 at 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 at 10 under with a two-shot 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 there and do my best and pretend 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 3-iron from 230 yards on the par-5 sixth hole and poured in a 17-foot eagle putt. His lead grew to as many as six strokes at one point as Patrick Cantlay, the defending FedEx Cup champion and winner of last week’s BMW Championship, managed only a 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

Championship Round 2022

Championship Round 2022

Xander Schauffele tees off 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 previous five starts here, continued his stellar play at East Lake. He shot a 66, one stroke better than his career average of 67.2 over 21 rounds. Schauffele is alone in second five strokes behind Scheffler and one stroke better than US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

For Schauffele, the key to his round was hitting 10 of 14 fairways on a day when overnight rain led to favored fairway lies and rain during the round softened the course.

“I was just really worried about hitting the fairway on every hole,” he said. “He started each hole as its own tournament and I was just trying to put it in because once you have the ball in hand, the greens are a little more receptive than normal and you have to be aggressive.”

Joaquin Niemann and Matt Fitzpatrick are tied for the low round of the day

Niemann may finally have taken over East Lake Golf Club.

The 23-year-old Chilean is making his third appearance at the Tour Championship. In his previous eight rounds in the playoff final, Niemann had broken even just once. He had finished T-27 in 2020 and 29u from the 30-man field last year.

On Thursday, he started the tournament at 2-under in scoring with a staggered start and improved to 8-under by the end of the day with an impressive 6-under 64, which tied him for the low round of the day with Fitzpatrick. Niemann finished his first round by draining a 19-foot eagle putt on the last.

“Those were two great shots,” he said. “That hit was a bonus.”

Fitzpatrick was happy with his 64.

“No-bogey rounds are pretty much my favorite,” he said. “My game felt a lot better than last week. My coach flew in on Monday after I told him to come on Sunday. So yeah, we had a good job on Tuesday and Wednesday and we definitely felt comfortable out there today.”

Rory’s Strange Day

Championship Round 2022

Championship Round 2022

Rory McIlroy walks 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 cycle of his life on Thursday. The Northern Irishman’s opening tee sailed out of bounds and made a triple bower. He made two more bogeys in his first five holes but rallied to make an eagle on six and eight birdies to shoot a 3-under 67 at East Lake Golf Club.

After the eagle, McIlroy’s Harry Diamond told him, “Rory, that’s the weirdest six holes I’ve ever seen you play.”

In 773 rounds, McIlroy had never gone without making par through the first seven holes of a Tour event. Fortunately, he sank a 6-footer in the seventh.

McIlroy would go on to make just four pars during a roller-coaster round that totaled a 67 and left him tied for sixth with Sungjae Im.

By the end of the day, as Diamond reached 18, Golf Channel’s John Wood reported that he had updated his assessment: “Rory, these are the weirdest 18 holes I’ve ever seen you play.”

McIlroy began the first round of the tournament at 4 under in scoring with a staggered start, but it didn’t take him long to appear out of the tournament as he fell back to par.

“I started with the worst possible,” he said. “We’re a bit unlucky to have had that heavy downpour earlier in the day. I tried to kind of guide this little peeler down the hallway during the first and complete double crossing, the body stopped… there’s a lesson in there somewhere that even when you’re not sure what you’re trying to do, you kind of The full mission for me is the best way to move forward.”

McIlroy was proud of the way he fought back, but he will start the second round trailing by eight strokes and will need help if he is to win the FedEx Cup for an unprecedented third time.

“I think tomorrow is a pretty pivotal day for the rest of the field, just to try and get a little bit closer to where Scottie is,” McIlroy said.

The Wise One ascends

Championship Round 2022

Championship Round 2022

Aaron Wise and Brian Dilley’s cheer 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’s money.

The 26-year-old Oregon Duck was the final qualifier for the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Sunday.

Wise named East Lake his favorite golf course on the PGA Tour and proved it Thursday, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 65.

Wise played alone in the first group of the day due to Will Zalatoris pulling out of the tournament due to injury, which meant there would be an odd number of players for two.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played singles in a tournament,” Wise said. “It was different. It was interesting to start. I felt a little weird starting the round but once I settled in there walking up to the three tees or so it felt pretty normal, it honestly felt kind of good because I could go at my own pace and do what I wanted.”

Entering the week at No. 30, Wise began the tournament at even par, 10 strokes behind FedEx Cup leader Scheffler at the staggered start.

“It’s just one of those things where you almost put it out of your mind and try to get the best score you can. But yeah, it’s weird walking up to seven and I’m 1 under in the round, and I look up and it says 10 under leads. Well, nobody’s under 10, 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 hopefully it will continue like that.”

Last-place money this week is $500,000, but Wise’s 65 moved him into a tie for 14u. There are still three days left 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 chipping away at Scheffler’s lead and see how profitable a week can be.

The story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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