ATLANTA — After squandering a big lead in the opening round of the Tour Championship, world No. 1 golfer Scottie Scheffler bounced back in a big way Friday at East Lake Golf Club and again finds himself chasing Norway’s Viktor Hovland on the weekend.
Hovland and two-time major champion Collin Morikawa posted 6-under 64s on Friday and have a 2-stroke lead at 16 under after 36 holes. Morikawa started the tournament at 1 under in staggered scoring, and his 15-under total of 125 set the 36-hole record for the Tour Championship. It’s 2 strokes better than Tiger Woods’ halfway total of 127 in 2007.
Hovland and Morikawa were 2 strokes better than Scheffler — who carded a 65 on Friday — and 3 ahead of U.S. Ryder Cup hopeful Keegan Bradley.
“If I was going to tell myself I was going to be 16 under through two days with my total score or whatever you want to call it, I would have taken that,” Morikawa said. “Look, I think with [the] wind being down and this course, if you keep it in front of yourself, it’s obviously gettable. There’s going to be low scores. There’s going to continue to be low scores this weekend.
“Greens are starting to firm up. You’re still going to see guys firing at pins. You have a few short holes that you have to take advantage of. The par-5s are very gettable. It’s not going to end at 16 under. There’s going to be a lot more low scores, a lot more birdies made. I’m going to have to continue that heading into the next two days.”
Morikawa had been searching for his swing for much of the past two seasons and oddly seems to have found it when he made a poor shot in Tuesday’s practice round.
“I hit one bad shot in the practice round, tried to figure it out, was out on the range [for] two more hours,” Morikawa said. “Sometimes just being out there when you don’t realize that you’re out there for that long of a period, you find one thing that you hope works. I mean, I’ve done that for the past few years, hoping that we’re going to find that one thing that clicks, and right now, I’m going to stick with it. Why not?”
Hovland, who won last week’s BMW Championship outside Chicago, led the field in strokes gained: off the tee and tied for second in driving distance at 314.1 yards on Friday. He had five birdies in the final seven holes of the back nine for a 30. He posted a 7-under 28 on the back nine at Olympia Fields Country Club on Sunday to win his first FedEx Cup playoffs event.
“I think it all starts from just the tee,” Hovland said. “I’m hitting a lot of fairways, driving it really well. If you’re constantly in the fairway on this golf course, you can really be aggressive with some of the iron shots in there. Just been able to give myself a lot of looks. On the back nine, I started making some putts.”
Xander Schauffele matched the co-leaders with a 6-under 64 on Friday. It was his 26th consecutive round of par or better in the Tour Championship, the most in the tournament’s history and nearly twice as many as the next-closest player, Woods, who had 14 straight from 1999 to 2001. Schauffele was under par in 23 of those rounds and has never been over par in a round at East Lake.
“It’s pretty obvious,” Schauffele said. “It’s just you’ve got to sort of plot around the property well, and if you can get your putter going, the greens are so pure you feel like you can start rolling anything in. So it must just fit my eye. I’m not really sure. I played pretty well around the property, and I’m going to need some more of that magic here on the weekend.”
Defending FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy is 6 strokes behind Hovland and Morikawa after carding a 3-under 67. McIlroy is still being bothered by a sore right side and said there’s only so much he can do on the course.
“I’m limited in what I can do, but I’m here grinding away, battling away,” McIlroy said. “So happy to be through 36 holes.”
McIlroy said he had a little more speed on his swings and was probably only a half-club off his normal distances, compared to a full club in Thursday’s opening round. He can’t hit left-to-right shots and is teeing his ball down on drives for flat, running shots down the fairway.
“It’s just hard to sort of get my right side through the ball,” said McIlroy, the only three-time FedEx Cup champion. “It actually feels better with the longer clubs because I’m more upright in my posture. When I sort of get down to the shorter stuff, trying to stay in my posture is a struggle. So I’m sort of just coming out of it and swinging my arms at it, and I’m missing a lot of iron shots left. But, yeah, just trying to manage it and do the best I can.”