A storm delay at the Tour Championship slowed the momentum of Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, right when they were starting to pull ahead in the chase for the $15 million FedEx Cup.
The final hour Friday in Atlanta showed how quickly it can change — and for Rory McIlroy, why no one is holding back in the season finale.
Koepka didn’t make a birdie on the back nine until the par-5 18th when he hit 5-iron from 239 yards to 8 feet behind the hole. He had to settle for a two-putt birdie, a 3-under-par 67 and a one-shot lead. Because he started the tournament at 7-under par as the No. 3 seed, he was at 13-under going to the weekend.
“The lead is always nice, so I’ll take that,” Koepka said. “The rain delay kind of killed any momentum I had. I didn’t feel like I had any good golf shots after the rain delay, but that’s part of golf. Everybody’s got to deal with the same thing.”
He was one shot ahead of Justin Thomas, who played his final 10 holes in 1-over for a 68, and McIlroy, who had a birdie-birdie finish.
And just not any birdie.
Photo: Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Image 1 3
McIlroy, who trailed by four shots early on the back nine, sent his drive on the 18th hole so far to the right it brought the out-of-bounds practice range into play. He was fortunate to have his ball in dirt under a pine tree, leaving him 242 yards away. McIlroy decided to choke up on a 5-wood and slice it around a tree some 50 yards in front of him, then over the water and near the green.
It came out perfectly, landing in a tiny strip of grass behind bunkers. He got up-and-down for a 67 and was right where he needed to be.
“I felt comfortable doing it,” McIlroy said.
Xander Schauffele also made a late surge with a birdie-eagle finish, holing a 25-foot putt on the par-5 18th for a 69. He was two shots behind. Paul Casey had a 67 and was four shots behind at 9-under.
Giving McIlroy good vibes going into the weekend was the score no one sees. McIlroy and Casey are at 7-under 133 over two days, the best 36-hole score in the 30-man field. So he figures he’s doing something right with his game.
The scoring for the FedEx Cup underwent a radical change this year, with players in the highest position in the FedEx Cup getting a head start in relation to par. Thomas is the No. 1 seed and started at 10-under before a shot was even hit. Koepka began at 7-under, McIlroy started at 5-under and Schauffele was at 4-under.
The lowest score to par wins the FedEx Cup and its $15 million bonus.
LPGA Tour: Nicole Broch Larsen shot her second consecutive 6-under 66 for a one-shot lead at 12-under 132 over top-ranked Jin Young Ko (67) midway through the CP Women’s Open in Aurora, Ontario.
Defending champion Brooke Henderson of Canada was three shots back after a 69 along with Pajaree Anannarukarn (69) and Yu Liu (67).
PGA Tour Champions: Fred Funk shot an 8-under 64 and held a one-shot lead over hometown favorite Fred Couples after the first round of the Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, Wash.
European Tour: Home favorite Henrik Stenson had six consecutive birdies around the turn in his 8-under 62 in the second round of the Scandinavian Invitational in Gothenburg, Sweden, leaving him two strokes off the lead held by Matthew Fitzpatrick (65) at 11-under 129.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Brroks-Koepka-takes-lead-in-PGA-Tour-finale-as-14375237.php.