Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, in Carmel, on Thursday
Carmel (Indiana): Tiger Woods produced a deft display of scoring, if not shotmaking, with a seven-under-par 65 at Crooked Stick Golf Club on Thursday in the first round of the BMW Championship.
With a little bit of magic, including a holed bump and run shot for a birdie on his final hole, Woods managed to escape mediocrity but not the shadow of his playing partner, Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 player, who is fresh off a victory in the Deutsche Bank Championship, one-upped Woods with a 64 for a share of the lead with Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet. Woods was tied for fifth with Vijay Singh.
Talk about cruel twists of fate. A rejuvenated Woods is chasing Jack Nicklaus during what is looking more and more like the blooming of the McIlroy era.
“He’s just an amazing talent,” Woods said of McIlroy, 23, who counts two Majors, most recently last month’s PGA Championship, among his five career victories on the tour.
He added: “He hits it great, putts it great, and on top of that, he’s just a really nice kid. The game of golf is in great hands with him, and he’s here to stay.”
Woods, a 14-time Major champion, continues to drive interest, but it does not hurt to have McIlroy riding shotgun. For the second time in three playoff events, Woods, 36, was paired for the first two rounds with McIlroy, his latest heir apparent. Before this year, they had never played together in an official tour event.
“I think it definitely creates some more interest for the fans and for golf in general,” McIlroy said. “It’s good fun to be out there and have such an atmosphere and such a buzz around a grouping like that, and it’s nice to be a part of.”
Including unofficial events, Thursday marked the seventh round that Woods and McIlroy have played together. Twice McIlroy has posted the better score.
“I’m not going out there with the intention of beating Tiger,” McIlroy said. “I’m just there to try and shoot the best number possible.”
Both golfers are adamant that in stroke-play events they are squaring off against the course, not each other. But from their opening hole, the par-4 10th, they engaged in a friendly game of can-you-top-this, with Woods following McIlroy’s 12-foot birdie putt with a 10-footer.
At No. 15, a 523-yard par 5, McIlroy launched a drive that Woods could not match. It travelled 306 yards and came to rest 21 yards in front of Woods’ ball. McIlroy’s six-iron shot stopped 10 feet from the pin, and he sank the eagle putt while Woods drained a 4-footer for birdie. A 310-yard drive by McIlroy at No. 18 set up another of his seven birdies.
After the round, Woods was asked if there was anything he could learn from the freckle-faced McIlroy. Smiling, he answered, “I wish I could hit it as far as he does.”
The Pete Dye layout is 7,497 yards, 208 more than during the 1991 PGA Championship, won by John Daly with a score of 12-under 276. To no player’s surprise, there were 60 rounds of par or better. The course was spongy from recent rainfall and the lift-clean-and-place rule was in effect.
“I think that we all knew that with ball in hand, soft conditions, we had to go,” Woods said. “We just couldn’t afford to have a bad start today.”