Kirk, Horschel share Tour Championship lead

They came to East Lake as the greatest unknowns among the Favored Five in the FedEx Cup sweepstakes. Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel, the top two in points, names that have been weighed down by neither great riches nor glory.

If this tournament were a movie, they wouldn’t appear in the credits until after you had left the theater and unlocked your car.

They are the fine print on the contract, the nutritional information on the box of Little Debbie Swiss Rolls. Important, certainly, but hardly considered by the public at large.

Thursday’s first round of the Tour Championship provided no kind of reshuffle whatsoever. You might want to get to know these two. They seemed joined at the flawless hip turn.

Paired in the final twosome Thursday, Kirk and Horschel committed nary a bogey between them. They both pitched perfect games, achieved almost total enlightenment for one afternoon. And both, not coincidentally, shared the first-round lead with 4-under 66s.

Should we be surprised?

“Well, we are Nos. 1 and 2 on the FedEx Cup list,” Kirk reminded the media audience. They are atop an important list, on which the first five can win the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus by simply winning this tournament — forget the need for higher math.

“Billy’s obviously been playing some pretty incredible golf with winning last week and finishing second the week before. And I’ve been doing all right myself,” he added.

They have scarce little separation from the pack. More than half the 29-man field finished under par Thursday. It is a board filled with minuses, a much better sight here than on Wall Street.

Four players are a shot back at 3 under, including the oldest player in the field, Jim Furyk, and the longest player in the field, Bubba Watson.

Watson seemed intent upon joining the leaders until he failed to get up and down from the bunker on the par-3 18th. Otherwise, the reigning Masters champion was quite pleased with the part of his game that has gone wandering. “I felt like I hit every putt like I wanted to,” he said.

The world’s top-ranked player, Rory McIlroy, was three back after his opening-round 69. He was 26th in fairways hit (only five of 14) and middling in greens in regulation (ranked 15th in the field) and thus fairly happy to be still in sight. “I could have let the round get away from me a little bit, but hung together well,” he said. “(A score of) 1 under is not out of it.”

Back to the firm of Kirk and Horschel. What was evident was the complete comfort they enjoyed playing in each other’s company. And it’s not like they have that much in common. One’s a Georgia Bulldog (Milton’s Kirk), the other a Florida Gator. You figure all Kirk would have had to do was whisper one “Lindsay Scott” in Horschel’s backswing, and the day would have been his.

But, no, they are too tight for that. They remember playing together as far back as high school, once even were paired together in the stroke-play portion of a U.S. Amateur.

Their personalities are nothing alike. “Man, he’s probably a flat-line guy,” Horschel said, “and I’m up-and-down the whole round. He looks like he’s Fred Couples walking slow and nothing affecting him. It looks like I’m sprinting around the greens and the golf course.”

They nonetheless are joined by a great ambition in this tournament, and the wounds of not being picked for the U.S. Ryder Cup team that launches in two weeks. And the best part is that by virtue of their identical rounds, they will be paired together again Friday.

Horschel is bringing an added drama to the weekend. His wife back in Florida is expecting the couple’s first child in two weeks. And we all know such dates are not written in indelible ink.

If she happens to go into labor while he’s on the course, “We’ve decided I will just keep playing because $10 million is a lot of money, and I’m not going to pass that by,” Horschel said.

“My wife played golf at Florida. She understands what this victory and the FedEx Cup all means. I’ve probably got the greatest wife out here, in my mind.”

Prepare yourself, world. The name Horschel is spreading fast.