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RIDGELAND, SC: Tom Kim felt as much a spectator as a player Thursday in the CJ Cup, amazed at how Rory McIlroy produces so much power with so little effort.

Kim wasn’t too bad himself.

They were the stars of a fine morning at Congaree Golf Club, one of them chasing the world No 1 ranking, the other a 20-year-old who is quickly becoming one of the most popular players among his peers .

Trey Mullinax and former US Open champion Gary Woodland each had a 6-under 65. McIlroy and Kim, who played together in the same band with Rickie Fowler, were among those with another shot back at 66.

“He makes this game so easy,” said Kim, who won two weeks ago in Las Vegas to become the first player since Tiger Woods with two PGA Tour titles before turning 21. game sometimes, seeing the lines he took. It was like 380 (yards) to runout and he was like, ‘Sit down!’ I was like, ‘Really? How to sit?’ But he almost succeeded.

“Obviously what was most important for me today was trying to play my own game and not looking at his line. But it was still so much fun.

McIlroy was also impressed, mostly with the way Kim plays at such a young age.

They matched birdies for much of the day in different ways. An example was the par-5 fourth hole, where McIlroy hit a 360-yard drive that bounded along the firm, wide fairway and belted a fairway metal just across the green. Kim was 50 yards behind him off the tee, still 64 yards from the hole after a fairway metal, then cut a corner on a 7-foot bunker for a birdie.

McIlroy really showed his driving ability on the 366-yard 15th, with sand and water along the right side of the green. He hit his drive right to the front of the green, even as Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas in the front group put.

“The longer I stayed on top of that tee shot, the more likely I was going to lie down, so I just needed to step up and hit it,” McIlroy said. “Whether they’re on the green or not, I had to go.”

A few apologies were in order by McIlroy, minus the hard feelings.

“He was never going to fly it off the green,” Thomas said. “It would never touch us. We’re just jealous. I would have liked to touch the green.

McIlroy needs to win to reach world No. 1 for the ninth time in his career, and he got off to a good start with a bogey-free run.

Kim was a better one, shooting the pins with his superb iron game and not getting as much as he would have liked with his putter. He was tied for the lead until he got his tee shot on the 18th, having to play out of water and missing an 8-foot putt.

“He didn’t really miss a shot there,” McIlroy said. “He’s a very, very solid player, playing to his strengths. Makes the same swing pretty much every time. He was kind of digging my brain a bit about speed training and I was like, ‘No, no, no, no.’ I think as he gets older and maybe a little stronger he will get that naturally.

“I was like, ‘Don’t go down that road, you’re good the way you are.'”

It was a good day for so many in the 78-man field, starting with Mullinax and Woodland. Both had three early birdies. Mullinax already had 7 under in 12 holes when his birdies dried up. Woodland finished with two birdies.

But not everyone.

Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player since late March and trying to hold off McIlroy, switched putters and didn’t have much to show with two birdies and two bogeys for a 71.

Jordan Spieth had a 75 with a round that included a triple bogey and a putt he missed by 16 inches. Spieth backhanded his short putt by the 16th and missed the holeshot, the weak spot in an otherwise difficult start to the season.

Fowler, who had the 54-hole lead in Japan last week, backtracked early when he putt four 20 feet on the fourth hole. He had a 74.