Recap of the day
Like it or not, the perception of the new "Starting Strokes" format was always likely to be determined by how leader Justin Thomas would perform. If he quickly parlayed his two-shot advantage into four or five strokes and eliminated all but a handful of the 30-man field, #TeamToldYouSo would not have held back. But if JT stalled and allowed the field to come at him, there would be high fives back at PGA TOUR HQ. The latter got their wish Thursday. Thomas muddled his way to an even-par 70 to remain at -10 and was caught at the top by Brooks Koepka (67) and the charging 2017 East Lake champ Xander Schauffele (64). Rory McIlroy moved to within one while just six shots separated the top 14 players by close of the first day. With 54 holes to go, this is wide open.
End of R1 Leaderboard: -10 Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, -9 Rory McIlroy, -8 Matt Kuchar, Patrick Cantlay, -7 Hideki Matsuyama, -6 Paul Casey, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed, -5 Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, -4 Sungjae Im, Justin Rose, -3 Corey Conners, Tony Finau, -2 Charles Howell III, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Abraham Ancer, -1 Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, Evs Louis Oosthuizen, Chez Reavie, Marc Leishman, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, +1 Jason Kokrak, Brandt Snedeker, +3 Lucas Glover.
Starting Leaderboard: -10 Justin Thomas, -8 Patrick Cantlay, -7 Brooks Koepka, -6 Patrick Reed, -5 Rory McIlroy, -4 Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer, -3 Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, -2 Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, -1 Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood, Corey Conners, Sungjae Im, Chez Reavie, Evs Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover, Jason Kokrak.
Revised outright betting - to win FedEx Cup: 11/4 Koepka, 7/2 McIlroy, 4/1 Thomas, 11/2 Schauffele, 10/1 Cantlay, 18/1 Matsuyama, 22/1 Rahm, 28/1 Kuchar, 40/1 Casey, 50/1 Reed.
Friday weather forecast
Temperatures in the high 80s but there's a chance of t-storms in the afternoon from 2pm. Winds are light at around 6-7mph.
Leaders after at 18 holes
Brooks Koepka (-10, 67) – Lost his No. 1 seeding to Thomas and fell to third after the BMW but he's back as the bookies' favorite to win the FedExCup again after wiping out JT's lead in a single day. Three back at the start, Koepka overcame a mid-round wobble (bogeys at 9 and 10) to end with three birdies in the last four. Hit just 6 (of 14) fairways but still found 14 GIR. Ranked 9th for SG: Putting.
Xander Schauffele (-10, 64) – Shot a Saturday 65 on the way to victory here in 2017 and went one lower today to jump from six back into a share of the lead. Pelted 15 greens and got up and down each time from his three misses. Gained 4.472 strokes Tee to Green (ranked 2nd).
Justin Thomas (-10, 70) – Was fighting it for most of the day and perhaps dumping one in the water and taking double bogey at 15 was almost a relief in a weird way. After that low point, he responded with two pars and a walk-off birdie to tie the lead again. Lost over 3 strokes on Approach but was ranked 1st Around The Green (2.303) after finding just 10 GIR. Just as well. That $15m jackpot is suddenly looking a long way away.
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas – See above
Patrick Cantlay (-8, 70) – Stayed within two of the lead but the trouble is there's three at the top now and he's lost his place as chaser-in-chief. Was 2-under for his day after 13 and also at double digits under but bogeyed 14 and 16. Easy to tell the story of his round. He ranked 1st in Approach (3.995) but 30th and last in Putting (-2.239).
Brooks Koepka – See above
Rory McIlroy (-9, 66) – Didn't drive it great to start with but turned a round that could have gone either way into one of the best of the day with birdies at 13, 15 and 17. Found just half the fairways but hit 15 greens. From five back at start of play, he's now just a single stroke from the lead.
Road to victory at Tour Championship
2018 Tiger Woods – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2017 Xander Schauffele – R1: 17th, R2: 8th, R3: 2nd
2016 Rory McIlroy – R1: 7th, R2: 5th, R3: 3rd
2015 Jordan Spieth – R1: 5th, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2014 Billy Horschel – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: Obviously, the format was different but it's still interesting to see how far back champions have come from. Tiger and Horschel both went wire-to-wire but hope for the chasing pack comes from the knowledge that both Schauffele and Spieth were five shots back after day one.
Focus on – Paul Casey
Over the last five years, no player has a better cumulative score to par at East Lake than Casey. He's -26 for that period, two better than fellow Europeans Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. Next on that list? Justin Thomas at 21-under. So no surprise that Casey should come out of the blocks fast again with a 66 today. Never one to underestimate his own abilities, Casey was shown the graphic and explained that it's because "I'm one of the best drivers of the ball around." His iron play wasn't bad either today. The Ryder Cup star made five birdies in his 66, converting from five inches, 2ft 6in, 2ft 1in, 16 inches and 4ft 11in. No wonder he ranked 1st for Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (4.675).
Focus on - Hideki's Route 66
Like Casey, Hideki Matsuyama also fired a 66 on day one. But he took a very different route. The Japanese holed from 12ft and 20ft for his birdies at 2 and 3, from 14ft at 7, from 28ft at 11 and from 7ft 7in at 12. Somewhat appropriately, he saved par from just outside 8 feet at the last. Yep, he ranked 1st for SG: Putting but losing strokes Tee to Green left him 21st in that category. No prizes for thinking that Casey's path is more sustainable.
Focus on – Cream rising
There were just four players within five shots of the lead at start of play. They went from Justin Thomas at -10 down to Rory McIlroy at -5. After 18 holes there are now 12 players in that same range. Their world rankings: 11, 1, 5, 3, 19, 7, 26, 21, 6, 16, 15 and 17. Not a bad cast-list as we enter the final three rounds!