September 21, 2017

By Stan Awtrey, The Sports Xchange
Publish Date: September 21, 2017 06:08:49 PM


Stanley leads Tour Championship by 2

ATLANTA -- So much for playing with outdated equipment.
The shafts aren't made of hickory, but Kyle Stanley is competing in the Tour Championship this week with a set of Nike irons he's used for five years. The old clubs -- which are no longer manufactured -- produced outstanding results on Thursday as Stanley opened with a 6-under-par 64 to take the first-round lead at East Lake Golf Club.
Stanley did a masterful job of keeping the ball in play, hitting 14 greens in regulation, and it resulted in seven birdies and only one bogey. He leads by two shots over four players. Not bad for his first competitive round at East Lake.
"We felt that it would be best if I just continued to play with a lot of the stuff that I was already pretty comfortable with," Stanley said. "Continuing to play stuff that I knew would be less variables overall."
Stanley holds a two-shot lead over four players who shot 66: U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Paul Casey and Daniel Berger.
"Today it was nice to get off to a pretty fast start, making four birdies in a row, and was able to make a few on the back nine," Stanley said. "Just tried to not complicate things, keep the ball in front of me and maybe make a few putts."
Tied for sixth with 67s are PGA champion Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Russell Henley and Gary Woodland. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is among six players who shot 68.
Stanley is playing in the Tour Championship for the first time -- he missed by one spot in 2012 -- and was seeded No. 22 in the 30-man field. He broke from the gate with four straight birdies starting at No. 3 and made the turn in 32. He had three birdies on the back nine for another 32. His only bogey came on the eighth hole.
"I hadn't seen the golf course at all, so I didn't know what to expect," Stanley said. "When we played our practice rounds, I thought it was really difficult."
Stanley will try to become the first player to go wire-to-wire and win the Tour Championship since Billy Horschel in 2014. Horschel, like Stanley, began the tournament that year as a long shot.
Stanley, a native of Washington who played at Clemson, turned professional in 2009. He has two career victories and his win this summer at the Quicken Loans National propelled him into the playoffs, where he started in 17th place. He finished in the middle of the pack at the first three playoff events: tying for 25th at the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship, and tying for 47th at the BMW Championship.
"It's been a goal to be here," Stanley said. "Once we accomplished that, it's not like all the stress goes away or anything. You still want to come here and play really well."
For Stanley to win the FedEx Cup and the $10 million bonus, he must win the Tour Championship and have many other dominos fall into place.
"A whole lot of variables there," Stanley said. "Just control what I can control, I guess, and we'll see, but it would take a lot of luck on my part."
There's no guesswork involved with Spieth, the No. 1 seed. If he wins the tournament, he wins the FedEx Cup, something he did in 2015. He would join Tiger Woods as the only two-time winner.
Thursday was a grinding day for Spieth. He was 2 under through eight after spraying most of his tee shots, but went eight holes without a birdie before making a 14-footer at No. 16.
"I get done and look back and I'm surprised we're at 3 under," Spieth said. "Things were off at different times and things were certainly on at different times that pieced this round together and kind of helped what was an interesting day to be still in this golf tournament."
Spieth admitted he may have gotten caught up in some of the FedEx Cup fever that permeated East Lake. With the ever-present scoreboards on the course, it's impossible for a player to avoid seeing where they stand or spy the projected FedEx standings.
"Maybe got caught up a little bit in the scoreboard today," Spieth said. "I don't know the scenarios, so it really doesn't make a difference for me to watch the scoreboard other than to figure out how to get to the leaders."
One of the most puzzling rounds was turned in by Johnson. He parred 10 straight holes before making his first birdie. He closed with a birdie at 18, knocking his approach shot on from 234 yards following a 338-yard drive