Koepka, Schuaf­fele pull even with Thomas

In Round 1 of Cup fi­nale, they tie top seed Thomas

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Doug Ferguson

Brooks Koepka walks on the fifth hole Thurs­day dur­ing the first round of the Tour Cham­pi­onship at East Lake Golf Club in At­lanta. Koepka is tied for the lead.

AT­LANTA — Xan­der Schauf­fele was six shots be­hind be­fore he ever hit a shot Thurs­day in the new scor­ing for­mat for the Tour Cham­pi­onship. His goal was to keep his head down, play good golf and see where he stood to par at the end of two days.

The TV cam­eras fol­low­ing his ev­ery move on the back nine at East Lake were the first hint it was go­ing well.

A leader­board on the 18th green con­firmed it.

“I saw I was in first,” he said. “Happy with the day.”

Schauf­fele didn’t come se­ri­ously close to a bo­gey in a 6-un­der 64 that was the best score of the open­ing round by two shots. It was only worth a share of the lead with Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka in a Tour Cham­pi­onship where play­ers started with bet­ter scores to par than oth­ers de­pend­ing on their place in the FedEx Cup.

Thomas, who started at 10un­der par and a two-shot lead as the No. 1 seed, still led de­spite hav­ing trou­ble find­ing the fair­way. That was the least of his prob­lems on the back nine. He hit pitch­ing wedge into the water for dou­ble bo­gey and missed a pair of 3-foot putts for a 70.

In­stead of be­ing six shots be­hind Schauf­fele, who started at 4 un­der as the No. 8 seed, Thomas was tied for the lead. Koepka, the No. 3 seed who started three shots be­hind, birdied three of his last four holes for a 67 to join them at 10 un­der.

“It’s weird on Thurs­day to be three back af­ter a cou­ple of holes,” Koepka said of the start. “It’s nice to close that gap on Day 1.”

Rory McIl­roy, five shots be­hind at the start as the No. 5 seed, had a 66 and was one shot be­hind at 9 un­der go­ing into the sec­ond round.

Over the next three days, it should feel like a nor­mal tour­na­ment.

The score to par is all that mat­ters in de­cid­ing who wins the FedEx Cup and the $15 mil­lion prize. And af­ter one day, it was set­ting up to be a shootout. The top five play­ers were sep­a­rated by five shots at the start, and that num­ber was at 12 play­ers by the end of the day.

That in­cluded Paul Casey, who felt a new kind of an­tic­i­pa­tion for a Thurs­day.

“Af­ter five holes, I wanted to see scores. I never usu­ally care about what’s go­ing on af­ter five holes,” said Paul Casey, who shot 66. He started eight shots be­hind as the No. 16 seed and cut that mar­gin in half af­ter one round.

The con­cern was that Thomas, who won last week at Me­d­i­nah, might post an­other low score and build a huge lead. It didn’t work out that way. “We’ve got a golf event now,” Casey said. “This is kind of cool. Looks like it’s work­ing.”

There were a few other mo­ments that in­di­cated this Thurs­day was dif­fer­ent from all oth­ers in golf.

Thomas made the turn at 1 un­der, and as the walk­ing scorer brought the sign across the road and onto the 10th tee, one fans was shocked to see him at 11 un­der un­til he said, “That’s right — he started at 10 un­der.”

Schauf­fele was at 10 un­der when he ap­proached the 18th green to face a 6-foot birdie putt.

“I had a putt for 59 on the last hole,” he said with a smile. “That’s what (Matt) Kuchar told me. I looked at him the same way. Got it.”

Schauf­fele won the Tour Cham­pi­onship two years ago in a sit­u­a­tion that led to this change in for­mat. FedEx Cup points ac­crued dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and quadru­pled in the post­sea­son were reset to give every­one a chance. The top five play­ers only had to win the tour­na­ment to capture the FedEx Cup, and odds of win­ning the bonus were higher as the po­si­tion in the stand­ings got lower.

Schauf­fele, a rookie in 2017, was the No. 26 seed when he won the tour­na­ment. The FedEx Cup went to Thomas, who was the No. 2 seed and fin­ished one shot be­hind.



Xan­der Schauf­fele was tied for the Cup lead af­ter an open­ing 64 at East Lake.

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