ATLANTA — If two-time major champion Colin Morikawa was trying to make a final impression on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zack Johnson in the Tour Championship this week, he made a big first move in Thursday’s opening round at East Lake Golf Club.
Morikawa, among a handful of players under consideration for Johnson’s six captains selections to be announced on Tuesday, pared a 9-under 61 with seven birdies and an eagle to claim a share of the 18-hole lead at 10-under in the graded order – Scoring format.
Another US Ryder Cup favorite, Keegan Bradley, scored an average of 7-under 63 to move him to 10-under. Norway’s Victor Hovland, who won the BMW Championship last week near Chicago, also took a share of the first-round lead with a par of 2-under 68 on 18 holes.
World No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler was hit by a single stroke at the age of nine under. Adam Schenck and Russell Henley had less than 8 years old.
There were nine players within 3 shots of the leader, the most by 18 holes on the Tour Championship since the tee shot format began in 2019.
Scheffler started the second day with a bang in front of the rest of the court after accumulating the most FedEx Cup points this season. After starting the day on the 10th, Scheffler had a birdie on three of his first six holes to open up a five-stroke lead.
But then Scheffler distributed the ghost to numbers 8, 11 and 12. He made a triple bogey 6 in the 3rd over in the 15th after hitting the tee in the water. He missed a 3-foot putt for a double bogey. This was Scheffler’s second triple bogey par 3 this season. He’s played more than 800 games, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
Scheffler lost 2,833 home runs, his worst run of the season, and 3,229 hits dropped on goal. He needed 33 hits.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed with the way I played today,” Scheffler said. “I got off to a pretty good start, and then I did some three-putts today, which was definitely frustrating. Then I had a bad swing there at strike rate 3, 15.”
It was Scheffler’s second consecutive disappointing run at East Lake. After starting the 2022 Tour Championship as the No. 1 seed, he held a six-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Xander Schoevel in the final round. Scheffler could only manage 3 over 73 over the last 18 holes and lost to McIlroy by a stroke.
McIlroy straightened his back on Tuesday and took the opening round on Thursday. He was par the first 18 holes and tied for seventh at 7-under overall.
Morikawa came within one stroke of tying Eastlake’s Johnson career record of 10 under 60 in the third round of the 2007 Tour Championship, which Tiger Woods won by eight strokes. It was the lowest run of Morikawa’s career on the PGA Tour.
“It feels great,” Morikawa said. “Shoot, I think there’s no better time (than) at our Tour Championship to show up and start playing some golf. But really I think for the next three days just have control of the golf ball, keep hitting it high. I give myself chances.”
Morikawa led the field in hits earned: close to the green (3.704) and hits earned: total (7.167).
After about 12 or 13 holes on Thursday, Morikawa joked to his holder, Jonathan “JJ” Jakovac, that he hadn’t hit that many high shots in four rounds of the tournament in a long time.
“It’s been another frustrating and volatile year, but (Jakovac) looked at me on Sunday last week and said, ‘Look, let’s go and have fun,'” Morikawa said. “It’s not easy to get here. I can’t take for granted that I’m here again. I had to do my best to get here again, play well in the playoffs, (and) get two titles. Like ‘it’s not easy’ . There’s a reason only 30 men succeed.”
It’s been a tough couple of seasons for Morikawa, who has not won on the PGA Tour since claiming his second major title at the Open Championship at Royal St. George Golf Club in Sandwich, England, in July 2021. Morikawa ranks 24th in the FedEx Cup points standings and has fallen to No. 20 in the world rankings.
The five-time PGA Tour winner finished 10th in Ryder Cup points. The top six qualified automatically for the team. Along with Bradley and Morikawa, LIV Golf League star Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Cameron Young, Sam Burns, Ricie Fowler, Justin Thomas and Lucas Glover are also believed to be under consideration.
Burns had birdies on two of his last four holes to score a 4-under 66 in the first round. Fowler (2-under) and Spieth (1-under) were also under par in the first round, while Glover scored 2 over 72.
Morikawa went 3-0-1 as a rookie for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September 2021, tallying 3 1/2 points for the Americans. He said he had not discussed a Ryder Cup team with Johnson since the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit in early July.
“Look, I had two years to put myself in the top six and we didn’t,” Morikawa said. “So that’s the way it is. I was still doing my best out there. And we’re still almost at the end of the line in that area where we hope the captain gets picked. Hopefully my record speaks for itself. Hopefully golf speaks for itself.” today.
“I feel good and at the end of the day I want to win this tournament. That’s what I really want. It’s been a very long time. I want to find a way to win. Today definitely helped me with that.”