RIDGELAND, SC — Tom Kim felt as much of a spectator as a player at the CJ Cup on Thursday, marveling at how Rory McIlroy can produce so much power with so little effort.
Kim himself wasn’t too bad.
There were star attractions on a beautiful morning at Congare Golf Club, one chasing the world No. 1, the other a 20-year-old who is one of the most popular players among his peers.
Trey Mullinax and former US Open champion Gary Woodland each had 6-under 65. McIlroy and Kim, who played on the same team as Rickie Fuller, were among those who shot 66.
“It makes this game a lot easier,” said Kim, 21, who became the first player since Tiger Woods to win two PGA Tour titles in Las Vegas two weeks ago. “It was very difficult to play my style. It was a 380 sometimes, seeing the lines he took. [yards] He went up to the runner and was saying ‘sit down’. I said, ‘Really? Like sit down?’ But he almost did it.
“Obviously the most important thing for me today was to try to play my own game and not look at his line. But it was still fun.”
McIlroy was equally impressed, especially knowing how well Kim was playing at such a young age.
Many diurnal birds adapt to different behaviors. One example was the par-5 fourth hole, where McIlroy hit a 360-yard drive that connected to the hard, wide fairway and belted a fairway iron on the side of the green. Kim was 50 yards behind the tee, still 64 yards from the hole after the right iron, and then chipped the wedge over the hole to 7 feet for birdie.
Massilroy showed off his driving skills on the 366-yard 15th, with sand and water on the right side of the green. John Rahm and Justin Thomas on the team hit the driver right on the face of the green.
“The more I stood on that tee shot, the more likely I was to putt, so I just had to get up and hit it,” McIlroy said. “Whether they were on the green or not, I had to go.”
There was some apology from McIlroy, except for the hard feelings.
“It was never going to fly on the green,” Thomas said. “We would never have hit it, we were just jealous, I would have hit the green.”
McIlroy must win to reach world No. 1 for the ninth time in his career and has made a good start with a bogey-free round.
Kim was the best at shooting pins with his amazing iron game and he didn’t get as much as he wanted from the participant. He was tied for the lead until he pulled the tee shot on the 18th, played short of the water and missed an 8-foot par putt.
“I didn’t really miss a shot there,” McIlroy said. “He’s a very, very strong player, he plays for his strength. He always has the same swing on him. He was picking my brain a little bit about speed training and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. I think as he gets older and maybe his touch gets stronger, he’ll naturally do that. He gets
I was like, “Don’t go that way, you’re fine the way you are.”
It was a good day for many in the 78-man field, starting with Mullinax and Woodland. Both made three birdies early. Mullinax was under 7 to 12 holes when the birdies were dry. Woodland finished with two birdies.
But not everyone.
Scotty Scheffler, the No. 1 player since late March and trying to close out McIlroy, was changed and had little to show for his two birdies and two bogeys.
Jordan Spieth had a round of 75 that included a triple bogey and a putt that missed 16 inches. Spieth tried to get back short on the 16th and missed the hole, the lowest of a difficult start to the season.
Fowler, who held the 54-hole lead in Japan last week, fell early when he four-putted from 20 feet on the fourth hole. He was 74.