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McIlroy one behind as Schauffele surges to share of Tour Championship lead

There’s a stacked leaderboard after round one in Atlanta.

McIlroy shot a superb 66 on Thursday.
McIlroy shot a superb 66 on Thursday.
Image: John Amis

JUSTIN THOMAS rolled in a two-foot birdie putt at the 18th to join Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka atop the leaderboard of the PGA Tour Championship on Thursday, while Rory McIlroy took route 66 to lie one behind. 

The top trio were tied on 10-under par, although under the ‘staggered start; format by which players were spotted strokes based on their position in the playoff standings Thomas needed only to card an even-par 70 to land there.

World number one Koepka rattled in a 12-foot birdie putt at 18 to cap a 67 and Schauffele, who won the Tour Championship as a rookie in 2017, posted a 64.

Koepka acknowledged it was “just weird” to arrive at the first tee at East Lake in Atlanta, Georgia, already three shots off the pace. But with one round done the event was feeling more normal.

Thomas topped the standings after his victory in the BMW Championship on Sunday and therefore started the tournament at 10-under, two strokes ahead of Patrick Cantlay, three ahead of Koepka and four ahead of Patrick Reed.

Thomas hit just six of 14 fairways, but he shook off a double-bogey at the par-three 15th — where he was in the water off the tee — to finish strong.

“I’m fine, I’m tied for the lead,” Thomas said. “I thought I played better than I scored today. I played a lot of good golf those last five or six holes — except for that dumb mistake on 15.”

Tour Championship, first round Schauffele made a big move on day one. Source: Curtis Compton

Schauffele, who started the day six off the lead, seized the momentum with six birdies in his bogey-free effort and said he tried not to focus on the unorthodox scoring system.

It’s designed to ensure the winner of the tournament captures the $15 million FedEx Cup playoff prize.

“I think everyone needed help from J.T.,” said Schauffele, who didn’t win the playoff title the year he won the Tour Championship. “If J.T went out and shot a pair of 65s I don’t think the tour would be very happy and I don’t think the rest of the field would be happy.

“But it looks to be a good tournament so far.”

McIlroy fired a 66 to lie one off the lead at nine-under. He made three of his five birdies on the back nine, including a 14-footer at 13, but he couldn’t get a seven-foot birdie attempt at 18 to fall.

© AFP 2019

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