ATLANTA – Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler clung to a two-stroke lead over hard-charging Collin Morikawa in Thursday’s opening round of the US PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship while Rory McIlroy struggled through a back injury.
Scheffler, this year’s Players Championship winner, began on 10-under par at East Lake in Atlanta with a two-stroke lead over Norway’s Viktor Hovland thanks to staggered scoring based upon season point totals.
But two-time major winner Morikawa, who began on 1-under and nine strokes adrift of Scheffler, fired a stunning nine-under par 61 to leap within two of fellow American Scheffler, who had seven to play.
“You’ve got to have your foot on the pedal,” Morikawa said.
“This is the end of our season for a reason. Even though I had a great round today I want to keep doing that for next few.
“I haven’t been this pin-high with my irons in quite some time. That’s a sign of control. And then being able to make some putts. I still left some out there but I’m not going to complain at all. I’m very, very pleased with this round.”
It was Morikawa’s career-low PGA Tour round, one under his final round at last year’s Tournament of Champions.
“I’ve grinded my butt off. I’ve spent way too much time out there,” Morikawa said of practice rounds. “But I figured some things out. It’s obviously nice to see.”
Asked what was working after firing seven birdies and an eagle in a bogey-free round where he closed with three straight birdies, Morikawa said, “Everything.”
It boosts Morikawa’s chances of getting a US Ryder Cup captain’s pick next week, but that’s not at the top of his thoughts.
“I want to win this week. I want to find a way to win,” he said. “That would be an awesome goal of mine and let everything else happen. I’ve got to focus on this week and get it done.”
Defending champion McIlroy, a four-time major winner from Northern Ireland who began three adrift on 7-under, answered bogeys on the second and eighth holes with a birdie at 10 but made bogey at 11 as he battled lower back pain.