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.