ATLANTA – Tiger Woods eagled the 18th hole Thursday to grab a share of the lead with Rickie Fowler after the first round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, the final stop on the PGA Tour this season.
Fowler carded the first 5-under-par round of 65 of the day, and briefly took over the projected No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Woods equaled his effort a few groups later, but both need a victory and some help to claim the FedEx Cup title this week.
Justin Rose birdied his final two holes to tie Gary Woodland at 4 under and take over the projected No. 1 spot from Bryson DeChambeau, who is tied for 21st at 1 over. With three rounds to play, DeChambeau has fallen behind Rose, Woods and Fowler in the projected standings.
Tony Finau (T5 at 3 under) sits in the No. 5 spot, and along with Rose and DeChambeau is one of five players who would win the FedEx Cup with a victory at the Tour Championship. Justin Thomas (3 under) and Dustin Johnson (T12, 1 under) are the other two.
Johnson, whose fiancee Paulina Gretzky made headlines earlier Thursday with a social media post appearing to reference their reported strained relationship, was 3 over before going 4 under over his final four holes, including an eagle on No. 18.
Rory McIlroy is part of the group tied for fifth at 3 under. He birdied four of his first six holes, but mixed in two bogeys and a double bogey with three more birdies over his final 12 holes. McIlroy will enter Friday in 14th in the projected standings.
While the rankings formulas continued to play out, Fowler and Woods were the stories on the course Thursday.
Fowler, who skipped the first two playoff events recovering from an oblique injury, posted his fourth 65 in his past five rounds. He rolled in six birdies against a lone bogey in recording his lowest career round at East Lake.
“There’s a lot of golf left,” Fowler told the Golf Channel. “All I can control is what I do, and try to go out and win this week and see where the chips fall.”
Fowler was projected to take over the No. 1 spot in the FedEx Cup when he walked off the course. That was fleeting, as Rose overtook him just minutes later with a birdie on No. 10. Woods then drained his eagle on No. 18 to grab a share of the tournament lead.
Woods is the only player to win the FedEx Cup twice (2007, ’09), and also has four runner-up finishes at East Lake. He’s back at the Tour Championship for the first time in five years, and posted the second lowest opening round at East Lake in his career. He went on to win after shooting a 64 in the first round in 2007.
“This was by far better than the 62 at Aronimink (in the first round of the BMW Championship),” Woods told reporters. “Conditions were soft there. It’s hard to get the ball close here. There’s so much chasing in it, and if you drive the ball in the rough you know you can’t get the ball close (to the pin). The Bermuda rough, you just can’t control it.
“So it puts a premium on driving, and it puts a premium on allowing for a little bit of chase on some of these greens. When I had some good looks, I went right after it. And otherwise, I went pretty conservative with it.”
Billy Horschel (2014) is the last first round leader or co-leader to win Tour Championship, while Bill Haas (2011) is last player to make the season finale his only win of season. Finau, Fowler and Woods – who will each play for Team USA in next week’s Ryder Cup – are still seeking their first victories of 2018.
“I saw the projection on the board when I came up the 18th there, and it said I was projected at 1, but there’s a lot of golf left,” Fowler said. “That’s where it’s going to be different next year in terms of how you see things, and it’ll probably be easier for guys to follow for the players on the course as well as the fans. But all I can do right now is go win and see what happens.”
–Field Level Media