Scheffler Shoots 65 to Lead Schauffele by 5 Strokes in Tour Championship

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler started the day with a two-stroke lead at 10-under-par in the unique scoring system of the Tour Championship, then more than doubled his pleasure, and it could have been even more.

Scheffler, who got his advantage by leading the FedEx Cup points list through the BMW Championship last week, birdied the last three holes to shoot 5-under-par 65 and built a five-stroke lead at 15-under over fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele at soggy East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The winner of the season finale on the PGA Tour will take home the FedEx Cup and the odds are very much in favor of Scheffler, who had a six-stroke lead after eight holes before the gap was closed during the event in which only the top 30 players in the point standings are eligible.

“I played well all day, but I was only two strokes ahead, so making birdies on those last three holes was really great,” said Scheffler, who has won four times this season, including his first major title in the Masters. “That’s always a great way to finish and I didn’t look at a leaderboard or the scores until I was finished, just stayed in my own little world.

“I didn’t think about having the lead at the start and just approached it as a regular four-day tournament. I just kept my head down all day and concentrated on just playing golf, my game. Fortunately, I played really solid golf all day.

“I’ve got a five-stroke lead, but it’s only the first round and there’s a lot of golf left to be played, and a lot of guys are playing well. I’m going to try to keep the same attitude and play the same way for the next three days.”

Scheffler, who won the 2016 East Lake Cup when he was a junior at Texas, got going early with a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 3 before sinking a 16-foot eagle at No. 6, and after making his lone bogey at No. 9, rattled off six straight pars to start the back nine until his sizzling finish.

Schauffele, the 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist from La Jolla and San Diego State who won the 2017 Tour Championship and has finished second twice in the finale among five straight top-10 results, started at 6-under and had five birdies against a single bogey in his 66.

“It’s all about hitting the fairway here and having a good second shot because the rough is a little tricky and a little unpredictable, especially when it’s wet like it was today and you can get some jumpers,” said Schauffele, who has claimed three of his seven PGA Tour victories this season. “You have to hit your drives straight, especially when it’s wet like this, because it’s lift, clean and place if you’re in the fairway and there’s mud on your ball.

“It’s a tough course, but it’s fun to play if you keep the ball in play, and I’ve always seemed to be able to do that here. It can be stressful if you hit thee ball in the rough, but you can score well if you can control your ball off the tee.

“But this is only day one and I just want to stay in the present, try to stay close to Scottie with this scoring system and give myself a chance to win on Sunday.”

Tenth-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England, the U.S. Open champion, started at 3-under and highlighted his bogey-free 64 with a 13-foot eagle putt on the final hole to sit six shots back in third, while third-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, started at 7-under and salvaged a 70 with a 20-foot eagle putt at No. 18 to wind up one more down in a tie for fourth with Joaquin Niemann of Chile, who capped his 64 with an 18-foot eagle putt from the fringe.

Cantlay is defending Tour Championship winner and FedEx Cup champion.

Said Fitzpatrick, who is playing in the Tour Championship for the first time: “Obviously, the course was a little soft because we had rain overnight and then a downpour when we were out there on the second and third holes. This is the first time I’ve been here and I love the course. Obviously, it suits my game and I played well today.”

Second-ranked Cameron Smith of Australia, the 122nd Open champion who missed the BMW because of a hip injury, opened the day at 4-under and sank a nine-foot eagle putt at No. 7 en route to a 67 and is eight strokes behind in a tie for sixth with third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who started at 4-under and hit his first shot of the day out of bounds on the way to a triple-bogey 7 but rallied with four birdies on the last five holes for a 67, and Sungjae Im of South Korea, who had only one bogey in another 67.

Sixth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain (who started at 3-under) and seventh-ranked Justin Thomas (3-under), the PGA champion, also posted 67s and are nine shots behind in a tie for ninth with rookie standout Cameron Young (3-under), who made four straight birdies on the front nine in yet another 67, Sepp Straka of Austria (4-under), who shot 68, and Sam Burns (5-under), who birdied the last hole for a 69.

Eighth-ranked Collin Morikawa (1-under) of La Canada Flintridge and Cal is tied for 14th after making birdies on the last two holes for a 66, while Jordan Spieth (2-under), the 2015 Tour Championship winner and FedEx Cup champion, birdied two of the last three holes for a 68 and is tied for 18th.

Ninth-ranked Will Zalatoris, the 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year who won the FedEx St. Jude Championship to open the FedEx Cup Playoffs, would have started at 7-under but he was forced to withdraw early in the week because of two herniated discs in his back.

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