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Golf Koepka takes one-shot lead in wild chase for $15-million

Brooks Koepka plays his shot from the 17th tee during the continuation of the weather delayed third round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club on Aug. 25, 2019 in Atlanta, Ga.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

One last birdie gave Brooks Koepka the 54-hole lead in the Tour Championship. One more round in that position will give him $15 million.

Koepka got up-and-down from behind the green on the par-5 18th hole to complete a bogey-free Sunday morning at East Lake and set up what could be a wild chase for the FedEx Cup and its $15 million prize.

There has never been more money at stake in a single day on the PGA Tour, and Koepka didn’t seem the least bit alarmed.

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“It’s easy for me just to go play golf,” he said after a 2-under 68. “That’s what we love to do. That’s I guess what I was born to do. You’ve got 18 holes left. Just leave it all out there.”

He was at 15-under par, one shot ahead of Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele, four ahead of Paul Casey and Justin Thomas.

No one else was closer than nine shots of the lead.

Koepka began the third round with two bogeys in five holes before it was suspended Saturday because lightning struck a 60-foot pine and injured six people who had been standing near the tree. They were treated and released later that night.

The round resumed Sunday in surprisingly cool, cloudy conditions, and the action was so furious that four players shared time atop the leaderboard in the first 35 minutes.

It ended with Koepka, the No. 1 player in the world, at 15-under par.

That’s the only score that matters under the new FedEx Cup format where the 30 players began at different scores to par depending on how they fared in the regular season and the opening two FedEx Cup playoff events. Koepka, the No. 3 seed, began at 7 under, three shots behind.

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Now it’s a sprint.

McIlroy began his morning with two straight birdies, dropped two shots on the back nine and closed with a birdie for a 68 to get in the last group. McIlroy had a one-shot lead over Koepka last month at a World Golf Championship, and Koepka shot 65 in the final round to win handily.

Schauffele delivered the biggest cheer before a small morning crowd with a hole-in-one on the 240-yard ninth hole, the first of his career.

“Didn’t see it go in,” Schauffele said, and as he watched the shot on a TV replay he added, “I did pull it.”

He missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole that would have put him in the last group, settling for a 67.

Schauffele won the Tour Championship two years ago to cap off his rookie season – Thomas won the FedEx Cup that year when it was based on points that were reset to give the higher seeds the greater odds.

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McIlroy won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup in 2016.

“Xander has won the Tour Championship before, not the FedEx Cup. J.T. has won the FedEx Cup before, but not the Tour Championship,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been able to do both, so hopefully I can draw on that from a few years ago.”

Casey, who traded a chance to earn points for rest when he skipped the first FedEx Cup playoff event at Liberty National, began the tournament six shots behind and now at least is in range of the big prize.

Thomas had a one-shot lead when the round resumed, and it quickly got away from him. From middle of the fairway on the par-5 sixth, he peeled his fairway metal to the right in fluffy grass just short of the bunker, leaving him no chance to get close to a pin tucked behind the sand. He wound up three-putting on a downhill 30-footer, giving him a bogey. Koepka was in the trees to the left and made an 18-footer for par.

Thomas chipped in from 60 feet for birdie on the 14th, had a chip hit the lip of the cup on the next hole and was back in position until he got caught in a tough lie below the 16th green. It took two chips to reach the putting surface, and another three-putt gave him a triple bogey that left him having to make up four shots in the afternoon.

The largest payoff previously was $11.62 million – the $10 million bonus and $1.62 million for winning the Tour Championship. Now there is no purse from the Tour Championship, just the $46 million in bonuses for the 30-man field.

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But there are no points to calculate depending on a player’s seed and his position on the leaderboard. It is only the score to par, and Koepka started the final round ahead by one. Second place gets $5 million, meaning the difference between winning and finishing second is equal to the bonus paid out last year – $10 million.

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