ATLANTA — On a sweltering hot day, Adam Schenk scorched East Lake Golf Club in his Tour Championship debut, carding a 7-under 63. Yet he was still beaten by two strokes in his pairing with fellow competitor Collin Morikawa.
“It sounds bad to say, but I’ve never won here, so I think I’m getting used to losing a little bit,” Schenk said. “But I played well, he just played a little bit 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 ranked 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. When the day was over, he was in the lead in the trophy chase, 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 triple-bogeyed 15 to squander his lead. At the conclusion of the Tour Championship, the player with the lowest number of strokes over 72 holes, combined with the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes, will be crowned the FedEx Cup Champion.
“Shoot, no better time, I think, 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 game shined on Thursday. He hit 16 greens in regulation and gained nearly four strokes on the course with his approach shots, also ranking first in the vicinity. Going up to 15th hole with caddy JJ Jakovac, Morikawa joked that he had already hit more shots pin high than he had in four rounds at most tournaments lately. At the water-guarded 224-yard par-3 15ththMorikawa oozed such confidence that he didn’t even bother to watch the ball fly.
“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 missed, he got a lucky break when he jerked his tee shot on the fifth hole and it ricocheted off a tree, back onto the fairway, and he made birdie.
“It’s some of that momentum that I just haven’t seen all year,” he said.
One hole later he drilled his second shot from 224 yards to within 4 feet and made eagle. Morikawa and Schenk combined for 15 birdies, with that eagle and nary a bogey between them for what would have been a best-round 13-under 57, and both agreed they were off each other as the round went build.
“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 behind by nine strokes, but closed the gap with four birdies in his final five holes to improve to T-5.
“I just got more from Collin than probably anything else and then I made something and then maybe he made something out of me, but it’s definitely an enjoyable day when you play with someone who plays really well,” Schenk said . who is looking 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.
World No. 1 Scheffler walked away from a brief post-round media session with his head down. He looked deflated after blowing an early five-stroke lead and making a triple bogey on 15 en route to shooting 71 at East Lake.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that he has three rounds to right the ship, and he enters the second round in fourth place, just one stroke back at 9 under.
“It’s kind of weird to start a tournament with the lead. I don’t know. It’s definitely an interesting format,” he said. “I think it’s kind 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 didn’t add any spark to his struggles with the short stick. Scheffler ranked dead last in the 30-man field in Strokes Gained: Putting, dropping 3,229 strokes in the first round.
Scheffler carded three birdies in his first six holes to reach 13 under, but he three-putted from 34 feet on No. 8 for his first bogey of the day. He bounced back by stopping his approach on 10 for an easy birdie, but made back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 11 (another three putts) and 12. The 15th proved to be his bugaboo, first washing his tee shot and then lipping out for another three putts and a triple-bogey six on the card. No one else did worse than a bogey at 15 all day.
“I expected him to continue after the start he had, but it’s just this golf course,” said Viktor Hovland, who played alongside Scheffler in the final group. “It’s not easy, especially that 14, 15, corner there.”
Bradley’s hot putting performance
Bradley finished with three birdies in his final four holes to shoot 63, his lowest score in 17 rounds at East Lake.
He is participating in the Tour Championship for the fifth time, but is making his first trip to Atlanta since 2018. This is the 10th.th time he has had an 18-hole lead or co-lead on Tour, and he has yet to convert either of those 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 finish in four previous starts.
Bradley played solidly in all departments, but had a particularly good day with the putter, finishing second in Strokes Gained: Putting.
“I’ve been playing this last month under so much pressure every week it seems, and to go out there and shoot a round like that felt really nice,” he said.
Ryder Cup hopefuls make final push
As Zach Johnson considers his six captain picks for the 12-man squad representing Team USA, he had to note that some of the names being considered made a move Thursday at East Lake. Check out this exchange with Bradley:
Going into this week, how far do you think the Ryder Cup will go to be considered or selected?
KEEGAN BRADLEY: Man —
Q. You knew this was coming, right?
BRADLEY: I knew it was coming, yeah. I said I try my best not to think about the Ryder Cup, but everyone asks me about it. And as I walk down the fairways, everyone yells at me about it. So it’s impossible for me not to think about it. I got to thinking, a two-year qualification process, with the tournament a month away, I don’t think everything is based on this tournament. But it can be. So it’s better to go and play well than not. I mean, they know how much I want to be on the team.”
The other player helping his cause is Morikawa.
“Hopefully my record speaks for itself. Hopefully 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 a long time. I want to find a way to win. Today definitely helped that.”
Rickie Fowler, who is also in the conversation for a selection, shot a 2-under 68 and Sam Burns signed for a 4-under 66. Lucas Glover’s late push for a selection 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 a 1-under 69.
Hovland is looking for back-to-back wins
There is no cooling from Hovland, not in this heat.
Hovland didn’t go wild like he did on Sunday at the BMW Championship, making seven birdies in his last nine holes to run away with the title, but he did enough in the opening round on Thursday to take a share of the Tour Championship lead.
Hovland fired a bogey-free 2-under 68 at East Lake to join a three-way tie at 10 under. It was a subpar putting day by Hovland’s standards, as he lost almost 2½ strokes on the greens and finished 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 result, but hopefully that will come tomorrow or the rest of the week.”