ATLANTA — On a sweltering hot day, Adam Schenk torched East Lake Golf Club in his Tour Championship debut to the tune of 7-under 63. Yet he still got beat by two strokes in his pairing with fellow competitor Collin Morikawa.
“It sounds bad to say, but I’ve never won out here, so I guess I get kind of used to losing a little bit,” Schenk said. “But I played great, he just played a little better.”
If it makes Schenk feel any better, the 26-year old Morikawa posted his career-low on the PGA Tour, a sizzling 9-under 61 that was as hot as the temperature. Morikawa, who entered the week at No. 24 in the FedEx Cup, began the tournament at 1 under and 9 strokes behind FedEx Cup leader Scottie Scheffler in the staggered start. By the time the day was over he was in the thick of the trophy hunt, tied with Keegan Bradley, who shot 63, and Viktor Hovland (68) for the lead at 10 under.
Scheffler (71) led by as many as five strokes on the front nine but hit it in the water and made a triple bogey at 15 to squander his lead. At the conclusion of the Tour Championship, the player with the lowest stroke total over 72 holes when combined with FedEx Cup Starting Strokes, will be crowned the FedEx Cup champion.
“Shoot, no better time, I guess, in our Tour Championship to show up and start playing some golf,” Morikawa said.
The two-time major champion said he made some subtle changes to his setup on Tuesday, and his iron play shined Thursday. He hit 16 greens in regulation and gained nearly four strokes on the field with his approach shots and ranked first in proximity too. Walking up the 15th hole with caddie JJ Jakovac, Morikawa joked he had already hit more shots pin high than he had in four rounds at most tournaments of late. At the water-guarded 224-yard par-3 15th, Morikawa oozed with such confidence that he didn’t even bother to watch the ball flight.
“Because I knew where it was going to go, and that’s the kind of control you want,” he said.
On one of the rare occasions when Morikawa misfired, he got a lucky break when he tugged his tee shot at the fifth hole and it ricocheted off a tree, back to the fairway and he made birdie.
“That’s kind of the momentum stuff that I just haven’t seen all year,” he said.
One hole later, he drilled his second shot from 224 yards to inside 4 feet and made eagle. Morikawa and Schenk combined to make 15 birdies and that eagle and nary a bogey between them for what would’ve been a best-ball 13-under 57, and both agreed they fed off each other as the round built.
“There’s a rhythm to it,” Morikawa said. “It was just really, really easy I think for both of us.”
Schenk, 31, also started the tournament trailing by nine strokes but closed the gap with four birdies in his final five holes and improved to T-5.
“I just fed off more of Collin than anything probably, and then I made some, and then he made some maybe off of me, but it’s definitely an enjoyable day when you are playing with someone that does play really well,” said Schenk, who is searching for his first career Tour title and summed up the round “as one of those days where nothing could go wrong.”
Here are four more things to know from the first round of the Tour Championship.
Scottie Scheffler of the United States lines up a putt on the tenth green during the first round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on August 24, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
World No. 1 Scheffler shuffled away from a short post-round media session with his head down. He looked deflated after frittering away an early five-stroke lead and making a triple bogey at 15 en route to shooting 71 at East Lake.
That’s the bad news. The good news is he has three rounds to right the ship, and he’ll enter the second round in fourth place, just one stroke back at 9 under.
“It is a bit weird starting a tournament with the lead. I don’t know. It’s definitely an interesting format,” he said. “I guess it’s a little bit of a blessing to have a pretty bad day and still be in the tournament. So, yeah, go out there tomorrow and just keep fighting.”
Scheffler returned this week to his Scotty Cameron Special Select Tourtype GSS putter, the one he used to win the 2022 Masters and several tournaments, but it provided no spark to his struggles with the short stick. Scheffler ranked dead last in the 30-man field in Strokes Gained: Putting, losing 3.229 strokes in the first round.
Scheffler carded three birdies in his first six holes to reach 13 under, but he took three putts from 34 feet at No. 8 for his first bogey of the day. He bounced back by stuffing his approach at 10 for an easy birdie, but made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 11 (another three putt) and 12. The 15th proved to be his bugaboo, first rinsing his tee shot and then lipping out for yet another three putt and a triple-bogey six on the card, his first triple or worse on a hole all season (2,179 holes between them). No one else made worse than a bogey at 15 all day.
Scottie Scheffler entered today as the Tour's leader this season in first round scoring average. He was 1 of just 7 players Thursday to card a score over par.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) August 24, 2023
“I was expecting him to keep going after that start that he had, but that’s just this golf course,” Viktor Hovland, who played alongside Scheffler in the final group, said. “It’s not easy, especially that 14, 15, corner there.”
Bradley’s hot putting performance
Keegan Bradley tees off on the 16th hole during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Bradley finished with three birdies in his final four holes to shoot 63, his lowest score in 17 rounds at East Lake.
He is competing in the Tour Championship for the fifth time, but is making his first trip to Atlanta since 2018. This is the 10th time he has held the 18-hole lead or co-lead on Tour, and he has yet to convert any of them into victory. In fact, he held the solo 18-hole lead at the 2011 Tour Championship, his first appearance in the event, where he opened with a 64 and went on to finish T-11, his best result in four previous starts.
Bradley played solid in all departments but had an especially good day with the putter, ranking second in Strokes Gained: Putting.
“I’ve been playing this last month under so much pressure every week, it seems like, and to go out there and shoot a round like that felt really nice,” he said.
Ryder Cup hopefuls make final push
Rickie Fowler chips onto the 15th green during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
As Zach Johnson contemplates his six Captain’s picks for the 12-man team representing Team USA, he had to notice that some of the names under consideration were making a move on Thursday at East Lake. Check out this exchange with Bradley:
Does this week, how far do you think it goes for Ryder Cup, for being considered or picked?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Man —
Q. You knew this was coming, didn’t you?
BRADLEY: I knew it was coming, yeah. I was saying, I try my hardest to not think of the Ryder Cup, but everybody asks me about it. And as I’m walking down the fairways everyone’s yelling to me about it. So it’s impossible for me to not think about it. I got to think, a two-year qualifying process, with the tournament a month away, I don’t think everything is based on this tournament. But it might be. So, better to go play well than to not. I mean, they know how much I want to be on the team.”
The other player who help his cause is Morikawa.
“Hopefully, my record speaks for itself. Hopefully the golf speaks for itself today,” Morikawa said. “But, look, at the end of the day, I want to win this tournament. I really do. It’s been too long. I want to find a way to win. Today definitely helped that.”
Rickie Fowler, who is also part of the conversation for a pick, shot 2-under 68, and Sam Burns signed for 4-under 66. Lucas Glover’s late push for a pick took a hit with a 2-over 72, which included a triple bogey.
Jordan Spieth, who is expected to get one of the six picks, shot 1-under 69.
Hovland seeking back-to-back wins
Viktor Hovland putts on the 18th green during the first round of the TOUR Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
There’s no cooling off Hovland, not in this heat.
Hovland didn’t go crazy like he did on Sunday at the BMW Championship, making seven birdies in his final nine holes to ride off with the title, but he did enough in the opening round on Thursday to grab a share of the lead in the Tour Championship.
Hovland fired a bogey-free 2-under 68 at East Lake to join the three-way tie at 10 under. It was a subpar putting day by Hovland’s standards, as he lost nearly 2½ strokes on the greens and ranked 29th in SG: Putting (better than only Scheffler).
“I feel like it was a solid round,” he said. “I felt like I played a little bit better than the score, but hopefully that comes tomorrow or the rest of the week.”
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