ATLANTA — Five days later, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm are still going at it. They dressed about the same Friday in the Tour Championship, matched birdies on five holes and wound up tied for the lead at East Lake Golf Club.
That required Rahm getting the better of Johnson again.
Rahm, whose 65-foot birdie putt beat Johnson in a playoff Sunday to win the BMW Championship, shot a 5-under-par 65 that allowed him to negate the two-shot advantage at the start of the round that was awarded to Johnson as the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup standings.
Johnson did his part with a 67, losing a three-shot edge early with back-to-back bogeys to end the front nine, then missing a birdie putt from just more than feet on the final hole that would have given him the lead in the opening round of the final event of the PGA Tour's 2019-20 season.
"The only birdie we didn't share was mine on 16. Besides that, we birdied every single hole together, which is kind of unique, right?" Rahm said.
They were at 13 under with three rounds to go. This is the second year under this format that the FedEx Cup leader, who starts at 10 under with a two-shot lead, ended the opening round in a tie for the lead.
"Technically, it is a continuation," Rahm said. "I kind of stole that tournament last week from him, and he started with a two-shot lead. So hopefully I can steal this one as well."
Justin Thomas was in the top spot a year ago and opened with a 70. He said later it felt awkward to start the tournament with a two-shot lead before hitting a shot. This year, he began at 7 under and shot a 66 to end the day two shots behind and alone in third.
"I learned I would have rather been at 10 under than 7," he said. "That being said, I feel like I'm in a good frame of mind. I'm in a good place mentally right now where I would like to feel like I would handle the golf course the same no matter what I was at. But I did a good job of just staying in my game today."
The biggest move belonged to the golfer who might be the least concerned about the game right now. Rory McIlroy tied for 12th at the BMW Championship the day before his wife Erica gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Poppy, on Monday in Florida.
McIlroy, who won the FedEx Cup last year and in 2016, didn't get to Atlanta until Thursday. He finished Friday's round with three straight birdies, getting up and down from a bunker short of the green on the par-5 18th for a 64. He started seven shots out of the lead but is only four back now and in fourth place.
"Even though I've had success here, I was coming in with no expectations. I didn't touch a club for four days in between tournaments," McIlroy said. "I come in here, and golf was sort of the furthest thing from my mind. And sometimes that's a good thing, just to decompress and get away from it. Yeah, happy to have the start that I did."
Abraham Ancer also had a 64 and was fifth on the leaderboard at six shots behind Johnson and Rahm.
Baylor School graduate Harris English, who was seventh in the FedEx Cup standings and among those who entered the Tour Championship six strokes out of the lead, is now in the middle of the pack, tied for 14th at 4 under after a 70.
A muggy afternoon with moderate wind allowed 17 players in the 30-man field to break par, with the average score 68.7.
Johnson and Rahm spent most of the day playing out of the rough, which makes it harder to get it close.
"The key out here is driving," Johnson said. "If you can drive it in the fairway, you can shoot a good score. The greens are so good, and the only way to control the golf ball coming into the greens is hitting out of the fairway. That's the only thing I need to do a little better tomorrow."
Johnson, Rahm and Thomas hold the key to so many hopes in the chase for the FedEx Cup and its $15 million prize. If they play well, it makes it difficult for anyone to make up too much ground on the players who happen to also be the top three in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Johnson and Rahm had golf buzzing last weekend with that wild finish at Olympia Fields Country Club near Chicago, where Johnson holed a bending 45-foot birdie putt down the slope on the final hole to force a playoff, only to later watch Rahm make a 65-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that turned out to be the winner.
On Friday, both wore navy trousers, a light blue shirt and a white cap. From a distance, it could be hard to tell them apart, especially with the birdies. Rahm holed one from 20 feet on the par-3 second hole, and Johnson matched him from six feet. Both got up and down for birdie on the par-5 sixth.
On the back nine, they matched birdies on the 12th, 13th and 15th holes. Rahm was outside Johnson all three times.
"I feel like I was doing most of the pushing because I made pretty much every single birdie putt before he did," Rahm said. "Props to him to be making them on top of me."
The 25-year-old Spaniard finally caught him with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 16th — Rahm's fourth birdie in five holes — and both squandered birdie chances on the closing hole.