Cantlay starts with lead and keeps his distance at East Lake

AP Photo/Brynn AndersonPatrick Cantlay still holds the lead after the first day of the Tour Championship. 

ATLANTA (AP) — Patrick Cantlay met his goal in the first round of the Tour Championship on Thursday, and it had nothing to do with the score on his card or the size of his lead.

As the top seed in the FedEx Cup, he started with a two-shot lead over Tony Finau before even hitting a shot. He finished the warm, breezy day at East Lake at 3-under 67 with a two-shot lead over Jon Rahm.

This was all about playing another tournament round.

“I think being in the spot that I’m in, it would be easy to get ahead of yourself and easy to maybe stray from your game plan because you feel like you’re ahead,” Cantlay said. “And that’s just not helpful, so I’m not going to do that.”

Only four players had a better score, so it was a good day regardless of the format that allows player to start at various points under par depending on their FedEx Cup position.

Rahm began by chipping in for birdie, kept the round from getting away from him with a few key saves — one for bogey, one for par — at the turn, and ran off four birdies over his last seven holes for a 65.

Cantlay, who started at 10-under par, moved to 13 under.

Five shots behind was Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English, and only one of them managed to pick up a little ground on Cantlay while delivering one of the more exciting moments.

That would be English, who was headed in the wrong direction when he stepped to the tee at the par-3 15th over water, the second-toughest hole at East Lake, smashed a 5-iron from 224 yards and watched it drop for a hole-in-one, the first one since the Tour Championship first came to East Lake in 1998.

He followed with two more birdies for a 66, one better than Cantlay on the day, a little closer than when English started.

DeChambeau birdied his last three holes to salvage a 69. He started three shots behind and now is five shots behind.

Finau, meanwhile, had a 72 and went from two shots behind to seven back.

This is the third year of the format, and Cantlay doesn’t know how the lower half feels. He was the No. 2 seed in 2019 when it started, the No. 1 seed last year. That first time didn’t go well. He had one of his worst weeks of the year, which cost him nearly $2 million with how far he fell.

Justin Thomas was the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds the previous two times. Now he’s at No. 6, meaning he started six shots out of the lead. That was a new experience.

He noticed he already was in 10th place by the time he teed off, based on some early scoring, and found that to a bit jarring.

But he shot 31 on the back nine, five birdies and one impressive par save on the 14th, and pieced together a 67. He’s still six back. It could have been worse.

“When you start behind like that, unfortunately, you just don’t have the luxury of shooting a 1 over or 2 over the first round,” Thomas said. “And I salvaged a good round out there and feel like I can easily go out there and shoot 6 or 7 under one of these next three days. And hopefully I do.”

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