Collin Morikawa’s work on the PGA Tour all season gave him a 3-under par score to start the final leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs at the season-ending Tour Championship at Atlanta this week.
Morikawa’s first-round play at the East Lake Golf Course couldn’t add to that advantage.
The 24-year-old Cal grad shot an even-par 70 on Thursday and sits in a tie for 21st place in the field of 30 golfers with a combined score of minus-3.
As a result, Morikawa is 10 strokes back of leader Patrick Cantlay, who began day at 10 under par, his reward for sitting atop the FedEx Cup standings after winning the BMW Championship last week.
Cantlay shot a 3-under 67 for a net score of minus-13, and is two strokes ahead Jon Rahm, who posted a first-round 65 after beginning the day with a 6-under starting point.
Sunday’s winner will claim the $15 million FedEx Cup first prize.
It was more of what we’ve seen in recent weeks from Morikawa, who played much of this season at a consistently elite level before injuring his back in the first round of the Tokyo Olympics in late July.
A two-time winner on the PGA tour this year, including at the British Open, Morikawa said both last week and earlier this week that his back is fine. The priority, he said, was working to correct issues in his swing that developed while he was compensating for the back ailment.
We can only assume that there remains work to be done. Still residing at No. 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings, Morikawa assembled four birdies and four bogeys in his round to finish even for the day. Given that he started seven strokes behind Cantlay, he cannot afford to tread water.
Cantlay, 29, had four birdies — including to end the day on No. 18 — and just a single bogey.
Rahm, the world’s top-ranked player, shot a 31 on the back nine to finish the day at 65 and secure second place.
Bryson DeChambeau (who shot 69 on Thursday) and Harris English (66) are tied for third with net scores of minus-8. Justin Thomas (67) is one of three players tied for fifth at minus-7.
Cover photo of Collin Morikawa by Adam Hagy, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo