CARMEL, Ind. (AP) — They had 16 birdies and one eagle between them. Their better-ball score would have been a 59. Beyond the great golf of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods that put them prominently on the leaderboard in the BMW Championship, they walked along like they were the best of friends.
A generational rivalry is taking root.
So is a friendship.
McIlroy, nearly flawless with his iron play, birdied the last two holes for an 8-under 64 that gave him a share of the lead Thursday at Crooked Stick with U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Indiana native Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet of Canada.
Woods, only sharp when it came to scoring, chipped in from 30 feet on his last hole for a 65.
They traded one magnificent shot after another on a Pete Dye design that was soft and vulnerable, especially on the par-3 sixth hole framed by a pond. McIlroy's tee shot covered the flag and settled 18 feet behind the hole as the gallery erupted in cheers. Woods followed with a tee shot that struck the pin and stopped 5 feet.
Take that, kid.
Both missed the putt, but they made their share of them on a broiling day north of Indianapolis. They chatted endlessly, sometimes Nick Watney joining them, off the tee and behind the green, and at one point Woods playfully shoved McIlroy after an exchange.
When they were done trading birdies, they shared the stage for a television interview, then headed off to the clubhouse for lunch.
"He hits it great, putts it great and top of that, he's just a really nice kid," Woods said of the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland who has endeared himself to Woods and so many others with his game, his manners and the respect he shows.
"The game of golf is in great hands with him, and he's here to stay."
Woods rarely showers anyone with so much praise, and McIlroy was deferent in return. They first played together at Woods' invitational tournament at Sherwood at the end of 2010, and Thursday was the sixth time they have been in the same group this year.
"You're watching a guy your whole life, you're growing up watching him do all these unbelievable things on TV, and then you're stuck there with him," McIlroy said of the first time they played together. "I was a little nervous. I still held my own. But the more I've played with him, obviously the more comfortable I've been, and I think that's showed the last few weeks."
McIlroy was three days removed from his third win of the year — Woods is the only other player with three PGA Tour wins this season — when he won the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods finished third, two shots behind.
Boy Wonder had every reason to be a little flat because of the short turnaround from the Labor Day finish. But that wasn't the case at the BMW Championship, not with fans lined three-deep down the entire 10th hole to see him and Woods in the same group for the second time in three weeks.
"It definitely gives you a little more of a lift, especially coming off a win and maybe being a little flat," McIlroy said. "You're focused from the get-go, and you want to go out and shoot a good number, and I was able to do that today."
They made it look easy, and Crooked Stick was every bit of that on a broiling afternoon north of Indianapolis.