ATLANTA (Georgia) • 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 US$15 million (S$20.8 million) FedEx Cup.
The final hour on Friday showed how quickly it can change - and for Rory McIlroy, why no one is holding back in the season finale.
World No. 1 Koepka did not make a birdie on the back nine until the par-5 18th when he hit 5-iron from 239 yards to eight feet behind the hole. He had to settle for a two-putt birdie, a three-under 67 and a one-shot lead. Because he started the tournament at seven-under as the No. 3 seed, he was at 13-under going to the weekend.
"The lead is always nice, so I'll take that," he 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 Thomas, who played his final 10 holes in one over for a 68, and McIlroy, who had a birdie-birdie finish.
And just not any birdie.
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 the dirt under a pine tree, leaving him 242 yards away. The Northern Irishman 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, adding that all he saw from the woods was an opportunity.
"I had a little gap," he said. "Whenever you're on my side of the tree, you could see what's on the right-hand side. I obviously curved it a lot. I thought that if I flushed a 5-wood, it might be too long.
"So I really gripped down on it. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't - might have got on the green.
"Made 4 off a bad tee shot, so I'm not complaining."
Xander Schauffele made a late surge with a birdie-eagle finish, holing a 25-foot putt on the 18th for a 69. He was two shots behind.
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 seven under, McIlroy started at five under and Schauffele was at four under.