Morning rise: Scottie Scheffler opens up 6-stroke lead at Tour Championship, FedEx Cup title in his sights

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ATLANTA – When play was suspended on Saturday, Scottie Scheffler was fighting his swing, if not the pressure of trying to clinch his fifth win of the season at the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and $18 million in bonus money from the season-long competition, not to mention the PGA Tour Player of the Year award. His lead was down to a single stroke.

But Sunday represented a new day and a fresh start, and Scheffler took advantage. He made birdie at his first hole of the morning, No. 13, and closed his weather-interrupted third round with four birdies in his final six holes to open up a six-stroke lead on Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy. Scheffler signed for 4-under 66 at East Lake Golf Club and improved to 23 under for the tournament and the largest lead after any round since Starting Strokes began in 2019. (Scheffler began the week at 10 under in the staggered-start scoring.)

Schauffele, in contrast, never found his rhythm, making bogey at 14 and all pars to shoot even-par 70, tying his worst score in 23 rounds at East Lake.

“Shooting even par out here on Tour is never going to get it done, unless it’s blowing 100 miles an hour,” said Schauffele, who blamed a cold putter, and added, “that’s the worst I’ve ever putted here.”

Rory McIlroy birdied each of his two remaining holes on Sunday morning to complete a round of 7-under 63, his low score in 35 rounds at East Lake, to tie Schauffele at 17 under. McIlroy and Scheffler will be in the final pairing, teeing off at 1:50 p.m. ET Sunday.

Sungjae Im and Patrick Cantlay, the defending FedEx Cup champion, both shot 66 and are tied for fourth at 16 under.

NBC’s Paul Azinger told Golfweek that Scheffler caught a huge break in having the third round suspended due to lightning on Saturday.

“The significance of what it means to him was evident yesterday. He looked lethargic to me, he wasn’t his normal self. An $11.5 million difference can change your tempo a little bit,” Azinger said. “I think he survived the day he didn’t have it, which was yesterday. He comes out this morning and shoots 4 under; that wasn’t going to happen. Now he gets to finish without another night’s sleep. I expect him to be in great rhythm the rest of the day.”

The largest final-round comeback in Tour Championship history came from Camilo Villegas in 2008 when he trailed Sergio Garcia by five shots and posted a final-round 66, defeating Garcia in a sudden-death playoff. McIlroy, who is bidding to become the first player to win the FedEx Cup three times, is on a serious heater. He’s 17 under since being 4 over through his first four holes on Thursday, and would be tied for the lead with Scheffler through 54 holes without the starting strokes.

Schauffele won the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions with a final-round 61 to erase a five-stroke deficit, and already has shot 63 once this week at East Lake, his favorite hunting ground on Tour.

“He’s the sneaky, little pesky silent-assassin just quietly plodding along,” Azinger said of Schauffele. “He and Rory both like to come from behind. They know how to get it going early and go bananas.”

Schauffele summed up the prevailing sentiment that the chasers will try to carry into the final round in hopes of tracking down Scheffler.

“You’ve got nothing to lose. There’s no target on your back,” Schauffele said. “Fortunately I’ve been on both sides of that now, so I need to tap into some older wins that I’ve had.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek