Atlanta – Masters Champion Scotty Scheffler He might have had a serpentine train from Thursday’s opening round in the Tour Championship if only he’d been paying attention to the scoreboards.
Schaeffler started with a 2-shot lead as the FedEx Cup top seed. He drove up to 6 shots on the nines in the front. Then his lead dropped to 2. And when he finished three straight for a 5-under-65, he was five strokes ahead. Xander Shaveli.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I was just trying to get out and catch a good number.”
Rory McIlroyIt was a wilder day in East Lake. It was known.
McIlroy, a two-time FedEx Cup champion, started with a 6-shot lead. He collapsed in heavy rain and tied his tee over the fence and out of bounds. Reloaded and found cache. He missed his 6-foot shot and took a triple bogey, that way he had 9 shots behind.
And then he went coarsely to the ghost in the next hole. McIlroy was only one on par in the top nine and he saved a notable 67.
“Not the best way to start,” McIlroy said. “The golf course is really accessible, so I knew there were a lot of loopholes to play with. I knew my game was good. It was just one of those things. Not the perfect way to start, but I’m proud of how I recovered from that.”
Equally influential was an open champion Cameron Smith, is playing for the first time since the inaugural FedEx Cup playoff event with a thigh injury exacerbated in soft conditions. East Lake wasn’t quite a real lake, but the all-night rain and torrential downpour made for a good walk.
He still ran 67 and joined McIlroy in 8 shots back. It was a strange attraction because McIlroy has been the biggest voice on the PGA Tour amid her battle with Saudi-funded LIV Golf, and reports suggest Smith will be next.
Inside the ropes, it’s golf.
“Business as usual,” McIlroy said. “Cam and I are really fine – we’ve always done that. Again, I keep saying no matter what decisions are made or the choices anyone makes, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Does that make me disagree with them? Of course it is. But I disagree. With so many people that I love and love.”
Thus began the final phase of the FedEx Cup and $18 million prize hunt. Schaeffler had the best year winning the Masters out of three victories on tough fields. He loved nothing more than to finish it, and he played that way.
A 3 iron led him from 230 yards up the hill to 15 feet to Eagle on the sixth hole. He only dropped one shot, heading out of dugout over the green at 9 par-3 and had to make a shot under 10 feet to escape with a ghost.
Then, he had a big finishing touch, capping by going from the rough surface left above the water to 30 feet for the pitcher to reach 15 feet below average (which marks his start of just 10 feet).
US Open Champion Matt Fitzpatrick The Eagle finished for a stealth-free 64 and was 6 shots behind – he equaled the best round on the wet day and only got a shot at a Scheffler – while Joaquin Niemann (64) and the title holder Patrick Cantlay (70) They were hit by another bullet from the back.
Chaveli is more dangerous than ever, and his record in East Lake is astonishing for someone who has never left Atlanta with a trophy. This was his twenty-first round in the Tour Championship, and his nineteenth under-level tour. The other two were equal in the 1970s.
He had a low 72 holes in 2020 but started too late to catch up Dustin Johnson.
“It’s a strange occurrence,” Shaveli said. “We do it once a year, and it’s one of the biggest events for us to do that. Because of those things, you just have to do your best to stay in the present and not move forward. The best golf for you.”
The oddity is still an injury that Scheffler mentioned from his weekend at The Open, where he went into Sunday in the mix and shot 74. He never revealed it and wasn’t entirely comfortable going into the details except to say he was in pain.
“I’ve got what’s called a pilonidal infection. It’s an infection at the top of the butt crack,” he said, trying not to smile. “You can look for it. It was very difficult for me to bend down. It was very difficult for me to do a swing on Sunday. It was actually very difficult to walk.
“Just one of those things that happened.”
Every part of what was already a great year, is now 54 holes away from getting even more special.