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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Wherever he finishes in this week's season-ending Tour Championship, tournament debutant Billy Horschel feels like "a kid in a candy store" just having qualified for the elite field of 30 players.
The 26-year-old American had never seen the iconic East Lake Golf Club layout until he arrived at the course on Tuesday but had a fair idea of what to expect after watching television coverage of the prestigious event countless times.
"It's fun to finally be here," a smiling Horschel told reporters after firing a four-under-par 66 on Thursday to end the opening round two shots off the lead. "I've seen it on TV many, many times. I'm a golf fan. I love watching golf
"It's obviously a small field. It's an elite field. You've got to have a really good year to be here, and I feel like a kid in a candy store to be here, honestly, because it's been a fun week so far.
"Playing practice rounds with nobody out there, you can zip around the golf course, only 30 guys. And you don't have to worry about the putting green getting crowded or the driving range."
Horschel felt even happier after conquering an early bout of nerves to move up the leaderboard in dazzling sunshine at East Lake with three birdies in four holes from the par-three 11th.
"The first few holes, I was pretty excited so I was trying to calm the heart rate down a little bit," he said after making his debut in the fourth and final FedExCup event where a $10 million bonus is up for grabs for the overall playoff winner.
"I just knew it's a ball striker's golf course. The fairways are generous, and you don't want to miss them. Especially the back side, there's some tough tee shots but I feel like it fits my game. I can control my golf ball very well.
"I was able to make some putts, and I left some out there. Honestly, in my mind, I think I could have shot possibly seven (under) easily."
Horschel, who clinched his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April before tying for fourth at the U.S. Open two months later, has distanced himself from any thoughts about possibly winning the FedExCup title.
"I saw that I needed to win (the Tour Championship) and I saw about seven or eight other things in there that needed to go my way," he said of his outside chance of claiming FedExCup honors.
"I stopped reading at that point. I don't know what the scenarios are. Honestly I could care less about the $10 million right now," added the brightly attired American, who was 22nd in the FedExCup standings coming into this week.
"If it happens to get in my pocket on Sunday night, it will be a great thing, but I'm just worried about trying to play good golf, trying to get better."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)