Collin Morikawa's 61, Scottie Scheffler's stumbles break Tour Championship wide open

The Tour Championship is anyone's tournament after Collin Morikawa scorched East Lake Golf Club on Thursday

Collin Morikawa charged up the leaderboard at the Tour Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Collin Morikawa charged up the leaderboard at the Tour Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — It took Scottie Scheffler an entire season to gain a 2-stroke lead to start the Tour Championship — and one bad hole to give it away.

Collin Morikawa, meanwhile, spent an entire season chasing a win that never came. He started 9 strokes back of Scheffler in the Tour Championship's staggered-start format, and it took only 18 holes for him to erase that entire deficit.

"No better time, I guess, in our Tour Championship to show up and start playing some golf," Morikawa said after his round.

Morikawa's seven birdies and eagle would've put him in the solo lead by 2 strokes, had this been a standard tournament. Instead, he'll have to settle for an 18-hole tie with Viktor Hovland and Keegan Bradley at -10.

Scheffler, meanwhile, began the day at -10 but was undone by a tumultuous back nine that culminated in a cringeworthy triple-bogey at the water-guarded 15th. Per golf statistician Justin Ray, it was Scheffler's first triple-bogey all season and first in 2,179 holes played on Tour.

"I guess it's a little bit of a blessing to have a pretty bad day and still be in the tournament," said Scheffler, who ended the day -9 after a +1 round, 10 strokes worse than Morikawa. "So, yeah, go out there [Friday] and just keep fighting."

Morikawa, meanwhile, rode the high of an exceptional round in thick Georgia heat. "The way [Thursday] felt, I wish I could go play another 18 and just continue that," he said. "But I know what I did [Thursday], and I'm going to keep those kind of baselines and checkpoints to make sure that when we start out there [Friday] that we continue that same trend."

Hovland enjoyed the benefit of the staggered start, which allowed him to remain at the top of the leaderboard, despite shooting 7 strokes worse than Morikawa. "Sometimes you tee off Thursday afternoon, and someone's already shot 9-, 10-under, so it's like, 'Well, I'm 9 or 10 shots back,'" he said after his round. "Reversing that, I'm a few shots ahead of everyone. So it's a little bit weird. You feel like you're kind of getting chased from the get-go."

For many players, including Morikawa and Bradley, the Tour Championship is the last opportunity to make a case for the Ryder Cup team, bringing an added dose of pressure to the week.

"I try my hardest to not think of the Ryder Cup, but everybody asks me about it. And as I'm walking down the fairways, everyone's yelling to me about it," Bradley said after his round. "So it's impossible for me to not think about it. I got to think — a two-year qualifying process, with the tournament a month away — I don't think everything is based on this tournament. But it might be. So better to go play well than to not."