Rory McIlroy agonised in letting slip a ‘double’ share of the lead as he posted a four-under par first round 66 which leaves him on nine-under after the opening day of the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
McIlroy grabbed five birdies, and should have seized three to four others including not even hitting the hole at the last for par, in very hot conditions at the PGA Tour season-closing event on the East Lake course.
It left the current World No. 3 trailing by just one shot behind fellow former Tour Championship winner, Xander Schauffele who signed for a seven-under par 64, Brooks Koepka (67) and Justin Thomas (70).
That’s the simple ‘Act One’ picture of the first-round Tour Championship and its $1.7m first prize pay-out picture.
The slightly more-complicated second act sees McIlroy and his 29 rivals bizarrely having to manage a second assignment involving ‘starting strokes’ as someone strives to walk off with the $15m FedEx Cup windfall while pre-tournament FedEx front-runner Justin Thomas, who began the round at 10-under par, has done everyone a huge favour in shooting a level par 70.
Thomas teed-up leading the field by two shots but struggled to be one-over par through 15 holes and after taking a double-bogey there, walked off in the direction of 16 disgustingly hurling his putter in the direction of his golf bag.
The former PGA champion managed to get back to level par for his round in holing a birdie at the last to be now tied in the FedEx Cup race with Schauffale and World No. 1 Brooks Koepka.
McIlroy is lying fourth in ‘Act Two’, following the 3-way tie for the lead, having started the round at five-under par and when adding his four-under 66, he’s now nine-under. His front-nine was hardly inspiring with a birdie at four, bogey on five and a birdie on the sixth hole.
McIlroy’s inward half was a better display with birdies on 13 and then at 15 for his fourth birdie of his day before grabbing another on 17. Then at the uphill par-5 last, McIlroy took two putts from just six-feet for par.
“I was very pleased to birdie three of my last six holes even though I missed that one at the last,” he said.
“It is so tough to shoot a good score around here if you don’t hit it in the fairway and I hit it in the fairway a bit more than I did last week in Medinah.
“Then you can shoot at some pins and give yourself opportunities, so to play the back-nine in three under and get in with a decent start is very nice.”