Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy look set for a BMW Championship showdown that could determine which of them will secure the $10million FedEx Cup bonus.
The star duo, playing in the same group, thrilled the crowds at Crooked Stick in Indiana with some scintillating golf on the opening day in the third of four events that comprise the FedEx Cup play-offs.
With preferred lies being operated on the rain-drenched course, Woods and McIlroy poured in 16 birdies and an eagle between them.
World No 1 McIlroy's eight-under-par 64 put him tied for the lead with US Open champion Webb Simpson, Bo Van Pelt and Graham DeLaet, while Woods ended the day one shot back in tied fifth with Vijay Singh.
McIlroy is now the 10/3 slight favourite at Betfred
, while Woods can be backed at 7/2 with Paddy Power
Woods could even have led on his own after almost making a hole in one at the sixth hole, his 15th, when his tee shot caught the edge of the hole.
That was just one of the highlights as he and McIlroy revelled in each other's company, sharing laughs as well as birdies.
“It's a lot of fun,” said Woods about playing with McIlroy. “This is the next generation of guys coming out. He hits it great, putts 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.”
McIlroy said: “I've always enjoyed playing with Tiger and every time we are paired up we seem to have a good time.”
The Northern Irishman is the FedEx Cup points leader after his win last week in the Deutsche Bank Championship and is therefore in pole position to collect the $10million bonus that goes to the points leader after the last event in the series, the Tour Championship.
Like Woods, McIlroy is aiming for his fourth win of the year in the United States.
He said he was thrilled with his ball-striking which set up seven birdies and an eagle at the 15th.
“It was great,” he said. “I felt like my iron play was some of the best it's been all year, basically in my whole life.
“I was also giving myself a lot of opportunities to attack the pins from the fairways. I just have to try to keep doing that for the next three days.”
Although only one shot separated them at the finish, Woods felt McIlroy had played much the better golf.
“I wasn't playing particularly well but I scored,” said Woods. “Rory, on the other hand, played beautifully. Every single part of his game was working. It all looked good.”
World No 2 Luke Donald also cashed in on the easy scoring conditions, posting a six-under-par 66 to be tied seventh with Ryan Moore and Ryan Palmer.
In all, 55 of the 70-man field broke par with England's Justin Rose (-5), Lee Westwood (-4) and Ian Poulter (-4) all well placed.