TOUR Championship: Cantlay still out in front but Rahm closing

The Californian maintained his two-shot lead after the first round at East Lake but his nearest rival is now the World No.1.

Victory in last week's BMW Championship after an epic play-off with Bryson DeChambeau put Patrick Cantlay in pole position to capture this week's season-ending TOUR Championship and make himself $15m richer.

The win at Caves Valley propelled him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and meant he started the money-spinning finale at East Lake in Atlanta with a two-shot lead over his nearest rival, Tony Finau.

Cantlay retained that same advantage in Thursday's opening round, advancing his score to -13 thanks to an impressive 3-under 67.

But his closets pursuer now just happens to be a certain Jon Rahm, the clattering hooves of the Spaniard rising in sound via a joint-best 65 which lifted him to 11-under.

It's a further three strokes back to DeChambeau and Harris English, the latter jumping up the leaderboard after a hole-in-one at 15.

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At the start of the week, Cantlay had questions to answer at this venue. In three previous attempts in the TOUR Championship, he'd finished 20th, 21st and 28th: not exactly much to shout about in a field of just 30 albeit elite players.

He'd also failed to break 70 in the opening round but the 29-year-old changed the script with a fine display of front-running on Thursday.

Whereas last week, his putter was red hot and carried his long game, in round one the reverse was true. Cantlay was impressive from tee to green but lost strokes to the field on the bermuda putting surfaces (last week they were bentgrass).

So far, so good but the finishing line where that huge jackpot awaits for whoever breaks the tape first is still a long way away.

And to cross it in front he'll have to do something he's never managed before: turn a first-round lead into a victory.

Cantlay has held three previous 18-hole leads on the PGA TOUR but had to settle for finishes of 4th, 23rd and 3rd.

And then, of course, the man breathing down his neck just happens to be the World No.1.

Let's take a look at how the story is unfolding so far...

How it started

-10 Patrick Cantlay

-8 Tony Finau

-7 Bryson DeChambeau

-6 Jon Rahm

-5 Cameron Smith

-4 Justin Thomas, Harris English, Abraham Ancer, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns

-3 Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland, Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson

-2 Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na, Brooks Koepka

-1 Corey Conners, Hideki Matsuyama, Stewart Cink, Joaquin Niemann, Scottie Scheffler

Evs Daniel Berger, Erik van Rooyen, Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed

How it's going

-13 Patrick Cantlay

-11 Jon Rahm

-8 Harris English, Bryson DeChambeau

-7 Viktor Hovland, Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas

-6 Kevin Na, Tony Finau

-5 Billy Horschel, Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Jordan Spieth, Abraham Ancer

-4 Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners, Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy

-3 Collin Morikawa, Sam Burns

-2 Sergio Garcia, Sungjae Im

-1 Erik van Rooyen

+1 Stewart Cink, Joaquin Niemann

+2 Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger

+6 Hideki Matsuyama

Rahm and Horschel lead lowest score race

There's a second betting market punters are watching this week: who shoots the lowest 72-hole score.

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So far, the leading scores look like this:

-5 Jon Rahm, Billy Horschel

-4 Harris English, Viktor Hovland, Kevin Na

-3 Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak, Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners

Patrick Cantlay stats after R1

Birdies 4, Pars 13, Bogeys 1

Strokes Gained Off The Tee: 0.340 (14th)

Strokes Gained Approach: 1.644 (6th)

Strokes Gained Around The Green: 1.178 (5th)

Strokes Gained Putting: -1.395 (20th)

Strokes Gained Tee To Green: 3.162 (4th)

Patrick Cantlay quotes

"What goal I really have for this week is being process-oriented and being very present. I think being in the spot that I'm in, it would be easy to get ahead of yourself and easy to maybe stray from your game plan because you feel like you're ahead, and that's just not helpful. So I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stay present and I'm going to stick to my game plan and I'm going to take what the golf course gives me.

"I rolled it really well today. I didn't make any of the long putts like I maybe made some last week, but I hit a bunch of good putts. I hit a bunch of putts with the right speed and I think if I putt again like I did today, some more putts might fall."

READ MORE: Is Henrik Stenson playing himself onto the European Ryder Cup team?

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