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Stanley (64) takes early lead at Tour Championship

By Will GraySeptember 21, 2017, 9:40 pm

The final event of the season is off and running, but there's a surprising name at the top of the leaderboard. Here's how things look after the first round of the Tour Championship, where Kyle Stanley holds a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Kyle Stanley (-6), Webb Simpson (-4), Daniel Berger (-4), Brooks Koepka (-4), Paul Casey (-4), Jordan Spieth (-3), Jon Rahm (-3), Justin Thomas (-3)

What it means: Spieth started the week as the top seed, and the top five players in the season-long points race will win the FedExCup with a tournament victory. But the top spot after Round 1 belongs to Stanley, whose win at the Quicken Loans National in June was his first since 2012 and who started the week at No. 22, making him a relative longshot to lift the season-long trophy.

Round of the day: Stanley has had a quietly consistent season, with five top-10 finishes and only six missed cuts. He is now in contention for the biggest win of his career after opening with a 6-under 64 at East Lake, a round that included seven birdies against just one bogey. Stanley raced to the top of the leaderboard with four straight birdies on Nos. 3-6 and added three more in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16.

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Current FedExCup Playoff points standings

Best of the rest: Koepka showed at Erin Hills that he can handle a long course with plenty of teeth, and he leaned on his advantage off the tee Thursday while carding a 4-under 66. Koepka closed his round with four straight drives over 330 yards in length and made it around East Lake without dropping a shot after getting off to a quick start with three front-nine birdies.

Biggest disappointment: It wasn't that long ago that Hideki Matsuyama was routing elite fields, but the Japanese phenom continues to struggle in the postseason. Matsuyama finished T-47 among a 70-man field last week and opened Thursday with a 5-over 75 that left him ahead of only one player. He made three double bogeys, including two during a front-nine 41 that didn't include a single birdie.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Stanley currently holds the top spot, but there's no reason to move the spotlight off of Spieth. It was an adventurous round for the No. 1seed, filled with plenty of errant tee shots, but a 67 still left him in fine position with three rounds to go. Spieth often talks about trying to peak for this event, and if he improves on his opening-round ball-striking there's every reason to believe he'll challenge for both trophies come Sunday.

Shot of the day: Berger made a late move up the standings with a closing eagle after carving his approach from 234 yards on the par-5 18th hole to within 14 feet and making the subsequent putt.

Quote of the day: "I feel like the key to this course is if you can get it in play off the tee, you can score." - Stanley, whose 64 came in his first competitive round at East Lake.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.