Butch and Sundance -- er, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy -- had a lovely stroll through Bethpage State Park on Thursday.
Yakking and laughing as they played their way around the Black Course, the grizzled old vet and the kid many believe will take Woods’ place among golf’s royalty appeared as relaxed in each other’s company as any good buddies out for a Thursday morning Nassau. This time, however, the carefree repartee seemed to stoke Woods’ fire rather than douse it.
"He's a nice kid, he really is," Woods told reporters about his first- and second-round playing partner after scoring a 3-under 68 at The Barclays, the first of four FedEx Cup playoff games. "I played with him in Abu Dhabi. We struck up a friendship back then, and it's continued. I think it's only going to get better."
Back atcha, McIlroy said during his Thursday press conference.
“Yeah, great. It’s always good,” the world No. 1 said about playing with the guy who held the top spot for a record 623 weeks. “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.”
In fact, the good cheer from Wednesday’s mock weigh-in, when McIlroy offered to kick Woods’ butt at next month’s Ryder Cup and Woods gave as good as he got, spilled over into a post-presser chat-and-chew.
"He just said, 'There's no way in hell you're kicking my ass,’” McIlroy, who posted a first-round 69, said about their good-natured ribbing over lunch. “Obviously it was just a joke, and it was funny. We had a laugh out of it, so it was good.”
Whether it was sharing the course with his new favorite sidekick or because the pressure of having to win another major was over for the season, Woods seemed as easy-going as he has in a long time. While he blamed his third-round collapse at the recent PGA Championship on a new, "little bit happy" approach, his on-course demeanor did not seem to hinder his play on Thursday.
“I'm all right. I didn't quite hit the ball as well as I would like. 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,” Woods said after needing 28 putts in his round. “But very pleased with the way I putted. I putted great today.”
Just one thing, though. Tiger and Rory may have sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but when are the two BFFs going to start following each other on Twitter?
Tiger and Rory (along with third wheel, Zach Johnson) will enjoy each other's company for at least one more round. They'll tee off at 1:06 p.m. from the first tee at Bethpage Black and have some ground to make up if they hope to catch first-round leader Padraig Harrington, who will start the day at 7-under.