For the most part, Day 1 of The Tour Championship at East Lake went the way of the entire PGA Tour season. Scottie Scheffler entered with a lead and left with an even bigger lead, and now he goes into the next three days trying to win the richest prize — $18 million for first — in PGA Tour history.
Scheffler dominated the day like he dominated the season and added a 5-under 65 to his total of 10 under — earned by coming in at No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings — to begin his week. His total of 15 under is five better than second and seven better than all but two players in this 29-golfer field.
The Masters champ does have some heat around him, though, mostly from Xander Schauffele, one of the best players in East Lake history. That was Scheffler’s primary competition on Thursday as he tried to create space between him and the rest of the leaderboard.
Let’s take a look at what he did on Day 1 and what’s in store for the rest of the week.
1. Scottie Scheffler (-12): Scheffler was was quietly great on Thursday. Following an early 3-under start through six holes, he looked like he was going to run away from the field even earlier than some (including myself) predicted. However, he uncharacteristically struggled from tee to green in the middle of his round before closing with three straight birdies to touch off a 65 that included just one bogey. It didn’t even feel like he played that well, but when the day ended he was five up on the world staring down the $18 million first prize. This is a little bit of who Scheffler is; it doesn’t always look perfect, but he’s been one of the best scorers of the year and will try to become the first golfer since Justin Thomas in 2017 to lead the PGA Tour with five wins in a season. A victory on Sunday would also more than double his season-long earnings of just over $14M.
2. Xander Schauffele (-10)
3. Matthew Fitzpatrick (-9)
T4. Joaquin Niemann, Patrick Cantlay (-8)
T6. Rory McIlroy, Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith (-7)
Schauffele’s East Lake numbers are nearly comical. In 20 rounds, he’s averaging 3.5 strokes gained on some of the most talented fields in golf. The next closest of the players in this field is McIlroy at 2.7 in 32 rounds, which is where Justin Thomas is as well. To further contextualize this, Tiger Woods has gained 3.29 strokes on fields at the Tour Championship in 28 rounds there, and Schauffele is living beyond that. Throw in the fact that he’s been playing some terrific golf toward the latter part of the summer, and it’s clear that Schauffele is the most fearsome of all the contenders Scheffler will try and hold off over the next 54 holes.
Rory’s psycho scorecard
We got a gem from McIlroy on the first nine today. After opening with a triple at the first, he shot a 1-over 36 on that side of the course while carding just one par. It wasn’t quite as wacky on the back nine, but any day in which you only make four pars and somehow still shoot in the 60s is a day worth celebrating your psycho scorecard. More importantly for McIlroy, he somehow is only eight back of the lead on a day when he finished second to last in driving in the field.
To try and bring into focus just what’s on the table this week, consider the following: this week at the Tour Championship, the total prize money is $58 million. That is $8 million more than the entire PGA Tour season prize money this time 30 years ago.
Aaron Wise’s opportunity
The best round early in the day belonged to Aaron Wise, who played by himself and offered a fake handshake to an invisible partner after his round. Oh yeah, and he dropped a 5-under 67 to move from last to inside the top 10. There are implications for Wise other than just the $58 million at stake. He’s vying for what would be his first Presidents Cup team, and with the absence of Will Zalatoris, the door is open for Wise to play his way on that team. Wise currently sits 21st, which is way back of where you would think a player would be chosen as a captain’s pick. However, Wise is young, talented and has been one of the hotter players down the stretch this year.
2022 Tour Championship updated odds and picks
The three guys on here that I really like are Scheffler, Schauffele and Niemann. Scheffler and Schauffele are, to me, in a two-horse race to win this week given their quality of play of late and solid history on this course. Niemann could ride a heater to catch them, especially if Scheffler collapses. His 63-63 start at Riviera earlier this season lingers in my mind, and he finished second in this field from tee to green on Thursday. I’d love to get him at 28-1 and then see another 64 from him on Friday afternoon.