Rory McIlroy shoots 68 at Tour Championship where Dustin Johnson is tied for lead
By Andy Charles
Last Updated: 23/09/16 10:51pm
Rory McIlroy overcame a pair of double bogeys to sit two shots behind Dustin Johnson at the end of the first round of the Tour Championship.
The Northern Irishman had two impressive birdie streaks on his way to a round of 68 at East Lake Golf Club, where Johnson joined Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Chappell for the 18-hole lead.
World No 2 Johnson put himself in pole position to claim the $10m (£7.7m) bonus as FedEx Cup champion with one of three rounds of 66, capped by a birdie at the last after a monster drive.
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McIlroy is the only member of Europe's Ryder Cup team to qualify for the PGA Tour's season-ending event and he came through a rollercoaster round in decent shape.
He started with a bogey but had recovered to two under with birdies at the third, fourth and fifth holes before going off the rails at the seventh.
McIlroy three-putted after twice finding the rough at the par-four, and he exacerbated his situation at the next hole by hitting his approach into the water and making a second successive six.
Much has been said about McIlroy's putting this year but he made a series of single putts on his back nine, carding four successive birdies from the 12th, although none came from outside 16 feet with his iron play well and truly dialled in.
There was frustration for McIlroy when he missed birdie putts at the 16th and 17th, but he made a fine par putt at the last and signed for a 68.
Johnson appeared to be on his way to the outright lead after 12 holes, looking imperious as he sat on four-under with a few decent chances to come.
But he dropped a shot at the 13th after a wayward drive and would only make one more birdie, which came at the last after his drive on the 600-yard hole ran out of fairway and was only a handful of yards from dropping into the pond.
Johnson pulled his approach to the green a little but was able to get down in two putts to join Matsuyama and Chappell.
The only player ahead of Johnson in the world rankings, Jason Day, opened with a 67 to sit in a tie for fourth place.
Like a number of players Day dropped a shot at the tough opening hole, but that would prove to be his only bogey with a birdie at the par-five closing hole completing his round of 67.
Matsuyama had four birdies in his first six holes on Thursday but had to settle for an opening 66 after mixing in a couple of early bogeys.
Chappell was the only player to avoid a bogey in his opening round, with the American managing four birdies on his front-nine before parring his way home.
The American would be regarded as a big outsider to secure the final US Ryder Cup wildcard and it was Justin Thomas who did most for his hopes with a first-round 68.
Thomas made the turn in one-under 34 but dropped shots at the 12th and 13th before rallying in the closing stages with three birdies to join McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on two under.
Spieth had a nightmare start, dropping three shots in his first two holes, but he recovered well with six birdies the rest of the way, including at the last two holes as he moved into red figures.
One shot ahead of that group, as well as Day, are American Kevin Kisner and Si Woo Kim of Korea on three under, while Paul Casey - another FedEx Cup threat - eagled the last hole to move to two-under alongside McIlroy.
Bubba Watson was regarded as the favourite to fill out Davis Love III's Ryder Cup team but he struggled on Thursday, carding four bogeys in a two-over round of 72.
Gary Woodland could only match that score while Daniel Berger and Kevin Na might have played their way out of contention with rounds of 74 and 77 respectively - Na sits in a tie for last place.