If Thursday's highly-anticipated matchup between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy was a heavyweight fight, judges would've scored the round in favor of Woods, who left Bethpage Black with a slight edge over the 23-year-old after the first round of The Barclays.
Even though Woods finished the day at 3-under to McIlroy's 2-under, early on it looked like the current PGA Championship winner was going to run away and hide from the rest of the field, after he opened with four birdies in his first 8 holes and turned in 3-under 32.
Playing the role of aggressor from the first tee shot, McIlroy pulled driver on numerous occasions and took dead-aim at every pin. He certainly looked the part of a cocksure twentysomething coming off an eight-shot win two weeks prior at Kiawah Island.
But as quickly as the momentum seemed to swing in McIlroy's direction, it faded on the back nine with two closing bogeys over the final seven holes.
"It definitely could have been a few shots better," McIlroy said of his round. "But I'm happy with how I played."
[ Photos: Tiger, Rory and Zach tee off at The Barclays ]
Woods, on the other hand, played a completely different game from McIlroy's bomb and gouge approach early on, hanging back with 3-wood to get a feel for the course's conditions. Despite the fact that he only made one birdie over his first 11 holes, Woods found his putting stroke late in the round, recording three birdies over his final eight holes to nip McIlroy by a shot.
"I didn't quite hit the ball as well as I would like," said Woods, who needed 28 putts to shoot 68. "I'm going to do some work this afternoon and work on a couple things that I know I need to shore up for tomorrow. But very pleased with the way I putted. I putted great today."
Aside from their play on the course, McIlroy and Woods seemed to enjoy each other's company during the round, joking around on a number of occasions -- to the point where you almost had to wonder if either realized they were playing a FedExCup event.
"Yeah, great," McIlroy said of his grouping with Woods. "It's always good. It's nice, especially the first round of a tournament. It always adds a little bit of intensity to it, I think. With it being the Playoffs and having a grouping like that, as well, I feel it just focuses you from the get‑go."
The intensity wasn't there on Thursday, but you can be sure if both are in contention come the weekend, the smile will be replaced by a game face.
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