Kim had to settle for a 1-under 69 on Friday, making bogey from the bunker on the final hole, to take a two-shot lead over Sergio Garcia and put them in the final pairing just six days after their leadoff singles match at the Ryder Cup.
Kim won that match, 5 and 4, and the Americans followed him to victory at Valhalla.
The differences are obvious.
This is not match play. At stake is $1.26 million, not a 17-inch gold trophy to share. There are 36 holes remaining. And its not unusual for top players to be paired together on the PGA Tour.
Even so, it brought some much-needed energy to this event because they are playing so shortly after the Ryder Cup.
We had one play of golf ' really, 14 holes of golf, Kim said, trying to downplay the pairing and instead drawing laughter.
Kim was at 7-under 133, and while he will have a 2-up lead of sorts on Saturday at East Lake, the momentum might lie with Garcia. He was 4 over through his first six holes of the tournament, rallied for a 70, then followed that with nearly flawless play for a 65.
Not to be forgotten was Kims tag-team partner from the Ryder Cup ' Phil Mickelson, who ran off five birdies over the last seven holes for a 68 that put him three shots behind.
And theres more at stake than just a big check and an elite title for the winner. Mickelson, Garcia and Kim are the top contenders to win the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average on the PGA Tour.
We still have a lot of golf left this weekend that will probably decide it, Mickelson said.
They were among six players in the 30-man field who managed to break par over two days, joined by Camilo Villegas (66) at 2-under 138, and K.J. Choi (70) and Mike Weir (69) at 139.
Even without their recent Ryder Cup history, Kim and Garcia are two of golfs most dynamic young players. Both can energize the crowd with their personalities, and they are loaded with talent.
Both consider the Ryder Cup history.
Its Saturday of the Tour Championship, Garcia said. Its a totally different event. Tomorrow is an important day to give yourself a chance on Sunday. Youre not going to win the tournament tomorrow unless you shoot 52.
Kim, whose opening 64 was eight shots better than the field average, looked as though he might go even lower when he stuffed his approach inside 3 feet on the first hole and hit two more approaches inside 6 feet through five holes.
But he made enough mistakes ' a pair of three-putt bogeys on the front nine ' to keep enough players in range.
I feel pretty positive about shooting under par on this golf course and not feeling like I got a lot out of my game, he said.
Ernie Els played in the final group with Kim and was trying to stay with him until pulling his tee shot into the water on the 17th and taking double bogey, sending him to a 71 to finish eight shots out of the lead.
Hes a good kid, a really good kid, Els said of the 23-year-old Kim. He has a good attitude and hes got a lot of game. We need a good, younger player like him.
One difference Friday was using his caddie, Eric Larson, to line up his tee shots. Kim felt he was missing his mark by some 15 yards, and this freed him up to blast away.
It worked out great, Kim said. I feel like Im on the LPGA Tour, but it doesnt matter. Im playing good golf and making good swings.
Garcia didnt play all that badly Sunday in his loss to Kim except for a few bad drives on the front nine. He made only bogey at East Lake, chipping to firmly on the 18th hole and missing his par putt from about 10 feet.
The 28-year-old Spaniard fired off three straight birdies starting with a 9-iron into about 10 feet on the fifth, concluding his run with a 25-foot birdie on the seventh with perfect pace that brought a wry smile. Garcia also hit a delicate bunker shot for a short birdie on the par-5 ninth, and hammered a wedge to 2 feet of a tough pin on the 17th.
If you miss the fairway, youre pretty much done, Garcia said. Even from the fairway, its still tough because the greens are so firm and so fast. But if you played well, you had a chance of getting on a roll, like I did.
Lurking was Mickelson, until his string of birdies at the end of the round.
Lefty won at East Lake in 2000, and he is starting to knock in enough putts to gain some confidence going into the weekend. Even so, he was intrigued by the two players ahead of him.
Mickelson and Kim were partners for three matches last week, although they never played against Garcia. Kim did that on his own in the opening match.
I like the way it worked out last Sunday, Mickelson said. That was nice. Ive got to go out and try to track both of those guys down. Thats not going to be easy.