There probably was more scoreboard watching done by the players at East Lake on Thursday than there has been during the first round of any other event this season. The curiosity to see how the new playoff system would work for the Tour Championship – especially by those who began in the middle of the pack -- was more than most could bear.
“After five holes, I wanted to see scores,” Paul Casey said. “I never usually care about what’s going on after five holes because you know where you stand usually.”
Rookie Sungjae Im, notorious for ignoring the scoreboards, said, “I couldn’t resist looking. I was just curious.”
For the most part, the players approved the new format – at least for the first day.
“I think it’s a little bit more straightforward and right in front of you,” Rickie Fowler said. “A lot easier to understand and know what you need to do vs. the point system.”
One of those to tried to avoid the scoreboards was Xander Schauffele, who shot 64 and moved into a tie for first place. But even he couldn’t help it at times.
“They’re so big, and they’re right next to the green,” Schauffele said. “If I’m reading a putt and the board is right behind my ball, of course I saw my name, but I quickly – instead of looking at who else – oh, I’m one ahead of this guy, I’m two behind this guy – I just saw my name briefly.”
Howell happy to play with house money
Augusta native Charles Howell III has a unique way of looking at the new format for the Tour Championship. Howell was No. 29 when the tournament began and started 10 shots behind No. 1-seed Justin Thomas.
“I’m just glad they didn’t start the leader off at even and us at plus-10,” Howell said. “I think that would have been even more humiliating.”
Facing astronomical odds of winning the tournament, Howell said is just playing as he would any other week and not worrying about the leaderboard. He opened with a 2-under 68, thanks to birdies on two of the last three holes, and moved into a tie for 17th at 2-under.
“Guys in my spot have nothing to lose,” Howell said. “We can only move up or stay the same. But the guys at the top, man, they’re playing under quite a bit more pressure. Say what you want, when there’s money on the line, it’s definitely enough to make you think about it.”
Rookie Im makes a move
Rookie Sungjae Im couldn’t help but notice the sizeable group of Korean fans who followed him around East Lake on Thursday. The 21-year-old native of Cheongju, South Korea, rewarded them by shooting a 3-under 67 and moving from No. 24 to a tie for 13th after the first round.
“I heard them shouting for me and shouting my name,” said Im, the only rookie in the field. “I just tried to concentrate on my game today.”
The strategy paid off. Im was 3 under on the back nine, including a remarkable birdie from off the fairway at No. 17. “I was lucky to get out on my approach and made birdie,” he said.
Im may be spending more time in Atlanta in the future. This one of a few cities he’s considering as a permanent resident.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he said. “I love Atlanta. Maybe I could see that.”
First Tee rep crushes ceremonial drive
Hailey Fisher had a pretty legit caddie for her big moment, hitting the ceremonial opening drive at the Tour Championship. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monohan peeled the head cover off Fisher’s driver, handed her the club and stepped off to the side, like any good caddie is instructed.
Then Fisher did her part. After a couple of practice swings, she nailed one down the middle of the fairway, much to the delight of the crowd that had assembled to watch in the stands surrounding the No. 1 tee. A volunteer retrieved the ball and presented it to her as a souvenir.
“They told me the commissioner was going to be my caddie, but I didn’t believe them,” Fisher said.
Fisher, a sophomore at the Drew Charter School, was chosen from The First Tee of Metro Atlanta to hit the shot. She learned one day in class when Dustin Johnson, her favorite golfer, broke the news via a specially created video.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Fisher said. “I didn’t expect it.”
The first ceremonial shot was struck by Bob Jones IV, grandson of the legendary golfer. Jones also split the fairway. Members of the Drew Charter School’s boys golf team were recognized for their accomplishment of becoming the first all-African American team to win a Georgia high school championship.
Also attending the opening ceremony were Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.