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ATLANTA — Collin Morikawa went down a rabbit hole in search of a swing fix and grabbed ahold of one by the tail. Viktor Hovland continues to make birdies in bunches.
That’s how these two find themselves sharing the 36-hole lead at 16-under par at the midway point of the Tour Championship.
At one time on Friday, there were 13 golfers in the field of 30 within two strokes of the lead, but by day’s end, the co-leaders had signed for a pair of 64s at East Lake Golf Club and only six golfers were within four strokes of the lead.
Morikawa, who is seeking his first win since the 2021 British Open and began the tournament nine strokes behind Scottie Scheffler in the staggered-start scoring system used to determine the FedEx Cup champion, was searching for his game on Tuesday afternoon on the range.
“I was going to treat Monday through Wednesday this week just as a kind of relaxing, get into it, game felt good enough to play well, and I went down this rabbit hole of just kind of — I hit one bad shot in the practice round, tried to figure it out, was out on the range two more hours,” he said.
With birdies on his final two holes, Morikawa opened with rounds of 61-64 to break the Tour Championship 36-hole scoring record of 127, previously set by Tiger Woods. He’s the only player in the field who is bogey-free through 36 holes.
“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.
He’d also take ranking first in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, driving accuracy and proximity. His putting hasn’t been too shabby, either.
“I’ve never seen him look as confident on the greens as we have so far this week,” said PGA Tour Radio’s Dennis Paulson.
Hovland, who won last week at the BMW Championship and entered the week in second place in the season-long FedEx Cup, is hotter than the weather, which tipped out at 97 degrees Friday. Hovland birdied five holes in a six-hole stretch on the back nine starting at No. 12 to post 64 and grab a share of his fifth career 36-hole lead.
“We’ve all grinded out the whole year to be at this spot but we’re only halfway there and so got to keep playing the way I’ve been playing,” he said. “When things feel good, you just trust your feels and visualize it and when it’s that easy, you just want to keep it that easy.”
Both Hovland and Morikawa are certainly making it look easy so far.
Here are four more things to know from the Tour Championship.
Scheffler’s putter warms up
Scottie Scheffler rebounded from dead last in putting among the field of 30 on Thursday (-3.238) to fifth on Friday (+1.729). He said he had better pace on his putts and avoided the dreaded three putts, which slayed him en route to 71 in the opening round. He rebounded with a bogey-free 65 and yet lost ground on the leaders.
“I was actually closer to the lead after yesterday’s round,” said Scheffler, who is alone in third and trails by two strokes. “That’s how weird this format is.”
The World No. 1 made birdies at Nos. 1, 3 and 6 for the second straight day and tacked on two more – at Nos. 12 and 14 – on his way to the house.
This marks the second time in the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes era that the No. 1 seed entering the week has not held at least a share of the 36-hole lead (Justin Thomas, 2019).
“I would like to be in the lead,” Scheffler said. “But, no, I played good golf today. I just need to do more of that the next two days.”
Bradley’s Ryder Cup luggage awaits
Keegan Bradley’s suitcase full of clothing, personal items and a bottle of champagne from the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup defeat remain unpacked.
“It’s in my garage. I thought for a while I’ll never open it again,” he said. “So hopefully I get a chance to play on this team. If I don’t, I’m going to be rooting hard. There’s been, in years past it’s been really hard for me to watch the Ryder Cup because I just haven’t been in the conversation to be on the team. But this year if I don’t make the team it will be different. I’ll watch and I’ll be pulling for the guys just as if I was playing.”
Bradley followed up an opening-round 63 at East Lake with a 67 on Friday to sit alone in fourth at 13 under. Just as importantly, the two-time winner this season showed U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson that he remains in good form.
“It certainly can’t hurt, I know that,” Bradley said of playing well this week. “But I’m just trying my best to not think too much about it, but I got people with microphones asking me every second, and then when I’m walking the fairways, people yell it out to me every second…periodically throughout the round it will pop into my head. But it’s impossible for me not to think about. So I’m sort of trying to embrace it.”
Bradley has been on two losing U.S. teams – in 2012 and 2014 – but hasn’t sniffed the team since. Asked how the contents of his Ryder Cup bag must sell, he smiled and said, “Not very good.”
Rahm and Schauffele well positioned for Moving Day
Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are lurking, four back of the leaders and T-5.
After 30 weeks at the top of the FedEx Cup, Rahm started the week in fourth place and 6 under, picking a bad time to have two of his worst weeks of the season. After a 69 on Thursday, Rahm got back on track, carding seven birdies and two bogeys en route to 5-under 65. As proof that this week matters to him, Rahm pumped his fist when he canned an 11-foot par putt at 14. It’s not every day the best fist pump par putts on Friday.
“It just felt good to not drop one,” he said. “It wasn’t the worst tee shot in the world. I had no chance to hit it on the green. Another tough lie afterwards. And, you know, sometimes you can fix a hole with a good putt.”
Schauffele started the week at 3 under with more ground to make up, but he’s always a threat at East Lake. Schauffele, who qualified for the Tour Championship for the seventh straight year, has never finished worse that T-7, and won the stroke-play portion of the tournament in 2017. He recorded his 23rd of 26 career rounds under par in the event. He’s not sure exactly why he feasts on birdies at East Lake, but it helps that he usually putts out of his mind – this week ranking third in Strokes Gained: putting through 36 holes.
“The greens are so pure, you feel like you can start rolling anything in,” he said.
Schauffele is winless this season, but there’s still hope he can cap off his season with one big scalp.
“I look up at the board and I’m just barely picking up ground, so still a lot to do,” he said.
McIlroy’s balky back
Rory McIlroy continues to nurse an ailing back that has limited what he can do, but he still managed to shoot 3-under 67. Despite the lower-right back pain, he’s alone in seventh at 10 under as he attempts to defend his FedEx Cup title, and recorded his 30th consecutive round at par or better on Tour, the longest active streak.
“I’m here grinding away, battling away,” he said. “I felt like I had a little more speed. I was probably half a club off my numbers than maybe a full club yesterday. But still it’s just hard to sort of get my right side through the ball. 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.”
When McIlroy complained about having less speed and hitting it shorter, caddie Harry Diamond shot back and said, “Now you know how everyone else feels.”
McIlroy said he’s unable to hit the ball from left to right or hit his irons in typical fashion
“I can’t turn my right side through the ball. So from the top of the swing I’m just sort of throwing my arms at it and it’s a lot of face rotation,” he said. “I would say it got a touch better today in terms of being able to just put a little bit more speed into the swing.”