Xander 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 10-under 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.
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.
Patrick Cantlay, the No. 2 seed who began two shots behind, shared the lead briefly until two bogeys over the last five holes for a 70. It wasn’t a good day, yet he still was only two shots behind.v
Thomas missed a 3-foot par putt on No. 12. On the par-3 15th, which played 60 yards shorter than usual, his wedge was right all the way and found the water. And on the 17th, he hit wedge to 3 feet only to see his birdie putt spin 270 degrees around and out of the cup.
He salvaged the day with a good drive — only his sixth fairway of the round — that set up a two-putt birdie.
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.
There were two winners that day and mixed emotions. Thomas had never been so irritated winning $10 million.
Now, the reward for a good season and two playoff events is a lower score under par to start the Tour Championship, and the lowest score to par at the end of the week wins $15 million.