Schauffele rockets up Tour Championship leaderboard as Thomas stumbles

Schauffele rockets up Tour Championship leaderboard as Thomas stumbles

FedEx Cup standings leader Justin Thomas squandered his pre-tournament lead but birdied the 18th hole on Thursday to maintain a share of the lead with two others through one round at the Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Thomas shot even-par 70 at East Lake Golf Club and was joined atop the leaderboard by Xander Schauffele, who shot the low round of the day with a 64, and Brooks Koepka (67), who also birdied 18th.

The new staggered-start scoring system — in which players were given advantages based on their standing through the BMW Championship — had Thomas starting at 10 under, two strokes ahead of second-place Patrick Cantlay. Koepka began in third at 7 under, while Schauffele began at 4 under, tied with four others for sixth.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who was critical of the scoring system on Wednesday, started in fifth at 5 under and shot 66 to hold fourth place alone at 9 under.

Another stroke back at 8 under are Cantlay (who shot even-par 70) and Matt Kuchar (66), with Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (66) alone at 7 under.

Thomas had an up-and-down day. After two birdies and a bogey on the front nine, he dropped back to even with a bogey at the 12th. A birdie at 14 got Thomas back into red figures, but only temporarily, as he double-bogeyed the par-3 15th after his tee shot found the water.

Thomas, who won the BMW Championship last week, bounced back by reaching the par-5 18th fringe in two and two-putting for birdie.

WATCH | Canada's Corey Conners drains 23-foot birdie putt:

The Listowel, Ont., golfer got off to a hot start by sinking a 23-foot birdie putt to open his round at the Tour Championship. 0:30

Schauffele, who beat out Thomas to win the Tour Championship in 2017, closed the six strokes between him and Thomas with three birdies on each side of the card in a bogey-free round. No other player in the field shot lower than 66.

"I figured once the cameras started following us, I was shooting a good score," Schauffele told "That was my giveaway."

Koepka, the world's top-ranked player, erased back-to-back birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 with consecutive bogeys at Nos. 9 and 10. He finished strong, however, making birdie putts inside five feet at the 15th and 16th before draining a 12-footer at the 18th to share the lead.

McIlroy, the 2016 winner and third-ranked player in the world, also finished with a flourish. He made birdies at Nos. 13, 15, and 17 after sandwiching two birdies around his lone bogey at No. 5.

World No. 2 Dustin Johnson, who started the day at 3 under, shot 73 to settle at even par, tied for 23rd.

Justin Thomas uses some body language on the 18th green on Thursday. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)