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Kirk, Horschel race out to a share of the lead

ATLANTA (AP) — Billy Horschel is playing his sixth straight tournament, a schedule he hasn’t kept in three years. His wife is at home in Florida, expecting their first baby in the next two weeks. There was no place he would rather be than the Tour Championship.

Not with the way he’s been playing the last few weeks.

And not with $10 million on the line.

Full of energy — or at least looking that way — Horschel matched birdies with Chris Kirk on Thursday at East Lake and both players kept bogeys off their cards. They each opened with a 4-under 66 to share the lead at the Tour Championship.

“This is my sixth week in a row. I haven’t played more than three events in a row this year,” Horschel said. “But I have no issues with that. Listen, this is the FedEx Cup playoffs. If you can’t get yourself in shape and get up for it on a daily basis, they why are you playing this game?

“It’s our playoffs. It’s like the World Series or the NBA championships and NFL playoffs. And we’re all tired and we’ve just got to figure how to put it out of our mind and go out and play golf.”

Kirk and Horschel are Nos. 1 and 2 in the FedEx Cup, and it was rare to see the top two seeds share the lead after one round.

But no two players are on better form.

Kirk won the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago at the TPC Boston, a victory that was secured only after Horschel chunked a 6-iron into the hazard on the par-5 closing hole when a birdie would have forced a playoff.

Horschel bounced back the next week at Cherry Hills by winning the BMW Championship.

And here they are again.

“Billy has obviously been playing some pretty incredible golf with winning last week and finishing second the week before,” Kirk said. “And I’ve been doing all right myself.”

Horschel made back-to-back birdies around the turn, including a 30-foot putt on the 10th hole. Kirk caught him by chipping in from 80 feet for birdie on the 17th.

They will be paired again in the final group Friday, when tee times have been moved forward because of storms in the forecast.

The top five seeds at the Tour Championship — Kirk, Horschel, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Hunter Mahan — only have to win at East Lake to secure the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bonus.

Watson bogeyed the last hole from the bunker for a 67, so he was right there, along with Jim Furyk, Patrick Reed and Jason Day. McIlroy battled his way to a 69, not his best golf but enough to keep him from falling too far behind.

“You can really shoot yourself out of it,” McIlroy said. “Even though I didn’t play great, I kept it together.”

Mahan might have done that with a 74, leaving him eight shots behind. Only one other player in the 29-man field — Geoff Ogilvy, who is just happy to have made it to the Tour Championship — had a worse score.

Mahan, one of three captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup, has broken par once in his last nine rounds since winning The Barclays.

Kirk was left off the Ryder Cup team, even though he has two wins this season and had just won a FedEx Cup playoff event the day before U.S. captain Tom Watson announced his three picks. Horschel might be the hottest in golf at the moment. He is prone to go on big streaks like this.

They have only one cup in mind, and they took a big step toward it Thursday.

“I’ll take four more rounds of 4-under par, bogey-free golf,” Horschel said. “And I may possibly be taking that to the bank.”

As for his wife? She played college golf at Florida, and Horschel said she wants him to stay at East Lake even if she goes into labor early.

“We have decided that if she goes into labor while I’m playing, I will just keep playing, because $10 million is a lot of money and I’m not going to pass that by,” Horschel said. “And I’ll just fly home after the round and fly back couple hours later, spend some time with them.”

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