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Sergio Garcia was part of the group at 66. Justin Rose joined the group at 67. Those at 68 included Ian Poulter, who like Harrington, cannot earn a spot on Europe’s team. Unlike Harrington, he is virtually a lock to be a captain’s pick.

There were 73 players from the 123-man field at par or better, not the kind of scoring associated with Bethpage Black.

Thousands of fans chased after Woods and McIlroy, in the marquee group based on their standing in the FedEx Cup — Woods at No. 1, McIlroy at No. 3. Both got off to a reasonable start. Woods scrambled nicely to recover from a few errant shots and scratched out a 68. McIlroy smashed one driver after another to set up short irons into the greens, and while he had three birdies through six holes, he let the good start get away from him and settled for a 69.

If this is a rivalry, it figures to be a friendly one. Woods genuinely likes this 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, who already has two eight-shot wins in the majors. He chatted more than usual, even for a Thursday, and during one wait on the par-3 14th, McIlroy listened intently with a smile on his face as Woods told a story, then broke into a big laugh upon hearing the punch line.

Worth repeating for a family newspaper?

“No,” McIlroy said with another laugh.

“He’s a nice kid, he really is,” Woods said. “As I said yesterday, I played with him in Abu Dhabi. We struck up a friendship back then, and it’s continued. And I think it’s only going to get better.”

Woods won the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, and he tied for sixth when the U.S. Open returned to this public course on Long Island in 2009. It looks the same, especially how the rough frames each fairway. And while there were differences in the softness of the greens and hole locations, the most obvious difference was scoring.

“I shot 3-under par and I’m not even in the top 10,” Woods said. “So it’s a little different deal.”