CARMEL, Ind. – Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy stood on Crooked Stick's par-3 sixth tee at 6 under par. It was their 15th hole of the day and most eyes in Indiana were glued to the game’s two biggest superstars.
When Woods and McIlroy come to your town, are paired together at the PGA Tour’s third playoff event of the season and it’s contested at the most recognizable course in the state, it’s epic.
McIlroy had the honors.
Standing 203 yards from the hole, the No. 1 player in the world put his classic strike on the ball and watched it fly just over the flagstick, landing 18 feet beyond the pin.
Woods stepped up, went after it with an aggressive swing and nearly made an ace. The ball dropped several feet in front of the hole, rolled and caught the edge before stopping 5 feet beyond.
Both missed their birdie putts. But that was insignificant. On this humid day in the Midwest, Hoosier hysteria was in full bloom.
The gallery finally had seen it all. To that point they’d witnessed birdies in bunches, drives consistently being belted more than 300 yards, a putting clinic, an eagle from 9 feet and now, nearly an ace.
Those coming to watch the BMW Championship were awarded with what amounted to a heavyweight championship match of the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
There are 64 men at the Match Play and only two matter by the end of the week. Seventy men arrived at Crooked Stick earlier this week, but only Woods and McIlroy seemed to matter on Thursday.
McIlroy shot 64 and is tied for the lead with Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet. Woods shot 65 and is tied for fifth place with Vijay Singh.
“I think that we all knew with ball in hand, soft conditions, we had to go,” Woods said, referring to wet conditions that allowed the field to play lift, clean and place, but still not acknowledging that McIlroy got the best of him. “We just couldn’t afford to have a bad start today.”
Said McIlroy: “I took advantage of hitting the ball really well, hitting it in the fairway, and also hitting it long. I missed a few, but was able to make the most of them. Great start to the tournament.”
This marks the 43rd time as professionals that McIlroy and Woods have played in the same PGA or European tour event. McIlroy is 22-17-3 against Woods in those events. Woods has won three events during that span; McIlroy has won four, including the Deutsche Bank Championship last week outside Boston and last month’s PGA Championship.
This round was an old-fashioned game of H-O-R-S-E where each was attempting to outdo the other. Woods was a shot higher than McIlroy but recorded nine birdies and two bogeys. McIlroy collected seven birdies and a bogey, but converted an easy eagle on the par-5 15th hole. Together their best-ball score would’ve been 13-under-par 59.
Woods was fully engaged during the entire round, and seems to enjoy the challenge of hanging with the new kid on the block.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Woods said. “This is the next generation of guys coming out. He hits it great, putts it great, and on top of that, he’s just a really nice kid.”
McIlroy seems to enjoy being chased by the man with 14 majors, and has come a long way since they were first paired together at the Chevron World Challenge in 2010.
McIlroy recalls being nervous that day. He’s over it.
“The more I’ve played with him, obviously the more comfortable I’ve been,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s showed the last few weeks.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing with Tiger. Every time that we’re paired up we seem to have a good time.”
Thursday at the BMW Championship, everyone seemed to have a good time.