Scottie Scheffler finishes with 3 straight birdies, leads Tour Championship by 5 strokes after 1st round

ATLANTA — Masters Champion Scottie Scheffler could have had a rollercoaster of an opening round Thursday at the Tour Championship if only he had paid attention to the scorecards.

Scheffler started with a 2-stroke lead as the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup. He led by no less than 6 shots on the front nine. Then his lead fell to 2. And when he finished with three straight birdies for a 5-under 65, he was 5 strokes ahead of Xander Schauele.

“I didn’t know any of that,” he said. “I was just trying to get out there and pull a good number.”

Rory McIlroyThe day at East Lake was much wilder. And he knew it.

Two-time FedEx Cup champion McIlroy started 6 strokes behind. He teeed off in a downpour and hooked his tee shot over the fence and out of bounds. He reloaded and found a bunker. He missed a 6-foot putt and took a triple bogey, and just like that, he was 9 shots down.

And then he went hard to bogey the next hole. McIlroy had just one par on the front nine and remarkably recovered a 67.

“It’s not the best way to start,” McIlroy said. “The golf course is really accessible, so I knew there were a lot of holes there where you could birdie. I knew my game was good. It was just one of those things. That not the ideal way to start, but proud of how I recovered from that.”

Equally impressive was the Open champion Cameron Smith, playing for the first time since the FedEx Cup playoff opener due to a worsening hip injury in soft conditions. East Lake wasn’t quite a proper lake, but overnight rain and downpour ruined a good walk.

He still managed a 67 and joined McIlroy 8 shots back. They were a curious attraction because McIlroy has been the biggest voice on the PGA Tour amid his battle with Saudi-funded LIV Golf, and reports say Smith will be next to go.

In the ropes is golf.

“As usual,” McIlroy said. “Cam and I get along great – we always have. Again, I keep saying that no matter what decisions or choices anyone makes, that doesn’t make them a bad person. . Does that put me at odds with them? Of course it does. But I disagree with a lot of people I like and love.”

And so began the final leg in the pursuit of the FedEx Cup and the $18 million prize. Scheffler had the best year with his Masters victory among three wins against strong fields. He would love nothing more than to finish it, and he played that way.

His 230-yard 3-iron up the hill at 15 feet led to the Eagle on the sixth hole. He dropped just one shot, going from the bunker to the green on the par-3 ninth and having to make a discreet 10-foot putt to escape with bogey.

And then he had a great finish, capped off by going from the rough left over the water at 30 feet for a two-putt birdie to hit 15-under (which explains his 10-under start).

US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick finished with an eagle for a bogey-free 64 and was 6 strokes behind – he equaled the fastest lap of the soggy day and won just one stroke over Scheffler – while Joaquin Niemann (64) and defending champion Patrick Canlay (70) were another shot behind.

Schauffele is more dangerous than ever, and his record at East Lake is staggering for someone who has never left Atlanta in possession of a trophy. It was his 21st round in the Tour Championship and his 19th under par. The other two were 70s pairs.

He had the low score of 72 holes in 2020 but started too far behind to catch up Dustin Johnson.

“It’s a strange occurrence,” Schauffele said. “We do it once a year, and it’s one of the biggest events for us to do it. Because of those things, you just have to do your best to stay in the present and not get ahead of it. Tuck your head in and play your best golf.”

Stranger still was an injury Scheffler mentioned over the weekend at The Open, where he came into the mix on Sunday and shot 74. He had never revealed it and wasn’t quite comfortable to go into detail except to say that he was in pain.

“I had what’s called a pilonidal infection. It’s an infection at the top of the cleft in your buttocks,” he said, trying not to smile. “You can watch. It was really hard for me to bend over. It was really hard for me to swing on Sunday. Walking was actually extremely difficult.

“Just one of those things that happened.”

It’s all part of what has already been a remarkable year, and it’s now 54 holes away from becoming even more memorable.

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