Atlanta: Britain's Paul Casey inched closer to claiming FedExCup honours after charging into a three-way tie for the lead in the first round of the Tour Championship on Thursday.
A notable absentee from next week's Ryder Cup, Casey fired a four-under-par 66 at East Lake Golf Club to set the pace with fellow Englishman Luke Donald and Australian Geoff Ogilvy.
American world number six Jim Furyk carded a 67 while South Korean KJ Choi opened with a 68 in the final event of the PGA Tour's lucrative playoff series. With the tree-lined layout playing fast and firm on a hot and humid day, scoring was difficult and only nine players in the elite field of 30 broke par.
Casey made the best start among the five players at East Lake who can secure the FedExCup trophy and its $ 10 million bonus simply by winning the tournament on Sunday. The rest of the field need other scenarios to go their way. The world number seven reeled off three consecutive birdies around the turn and did well to save par at the last by sinking a 10-foot putt.
"It's a very difficult golf course with the heat, the sunshine and a little bit of wind we had today," Casey told reporters after a round featuring five birdies and one bogey. "It's very tricky to get the golf ball close. If you do do that, though, the greens are in perfect condition so you can make a lot of putts. And that's what I did today."
Although bitterly disappointed to miss out on selection for the European Ryder Cup team, Casey said he had not been fuelled by any extra motivation at the Tour Championship. "I've got an opportunity to accomplish one of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year ... and I'm just trying to put myself in that position to win," he added. "I'm not getting wrapped up in any sort of extra motivation. I don't need extra motivation. I'm motivated enough."
Donald, who was one of European captain Colin Montgomerie's three wildcard picks for the Ryder Cup, joined Casey at four under after mixing six birdies with two bogeys. "I was able to make a few of my birdies with some long putts," the Englishman said. "I hit a decent amount of greens and took advantage of chances when I had them. It was a great, solid start." A double winner on the PGA Tour, Donald has not triumphed on the US circuit since the 2006 Honda Classic. "I certainly feel a certain amount of urgency (to win again)," he said. "I feel like I'm good enough, I work hard enough to win out here, I just haven't got it done the last few years."
American world number two Phil Mickelson, who won last year's Tour Championship by a commanding three shots, opened with a 69 while Ernie Els returned a 71.
FedExCup points leader Matt Kuchar, who could finish as low as 29th this week and still have a mathematical chance of landing playoff honours, carded a 72.