ATLANTA – So much for being intimidated by Rory McIlroy.
A couple of days after Hall of Famer Greg Norman suggested that Tiger Woods is intimidated by his young rival, Woods trampled all over that notion Thursday.
With his clubs, not his mouth.
Paired with World No. 1 McIlroy in the first round of the Tour Championship, Woods shot 4-under 66 at East Lake Golf Club, good for a share of the lead with Justin Rose.
“He definitely wasn’t intimidated by me, and I’m not intimidated by him,” McIlroy said after shooting a 69 that put him in a tie for 12th. “We’re both playing great, and hopefully we have some great battles for years to come.”
So far, so good this month.
If you doubt that the FedEx Cup playoffs aren’t good for golf, consider this: The two have now played together five times in the playoffs. Earlier in the year, they played three rounds with each other in Abu Dhabi.
Not surprisingly, the two competitors relish the pairing.
“I enjoy playing with Rory,” Woods said after making six birdies against two bogeys. “He’s a great kid. Over the years there are certain pairings for me that I’ve enjoyed, and Rory is one of them.”
The two talked going down most fairways. One topic included the fast pace of play in the 30-man event, for their twosome played in about 3 1/2 hours.
“We wish every tournament had this kind of pace,” Woods said. “No one enjoys playing six hours out there. But everybody enjoys this pace. It’s nice and fast and very little wait, and we’re just going. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the group in front of you. That’s nice.”
And apparently there was some good-natured ribbing during the round.
“A lot of guys are like that,” Woods said of players who aren’t afraid to tease him. “He’s not the only one. You probably don’t believe this, but I get along really well with a lot of guys out here. Rory is no different. … As I said, I give it. They dish it. And we have a great time.”
Clearly, McIlroy, 23, has become more at ease playing with Woods over the last year. You can see that in his actions and hear it in his words.
“The more you’re around someone, the more you get to know him, and the more you feel comfortable with him,” McIlroy said. “There is no point having any enemies out here.”
On Thursday, his opponent appeared to be in control of all parts of his game. Woods drove the ball well, finding 10 of 14 fairways. He reached 13 greens in regulation, and he took only 26 putts.
Two of his birdies came from 21 feet – one on a chip-in at 12, the other on a putt that he fast-walked after on No. 2 because he knew the ball was going in. “Poured it,” he said. “That wasn’t missing.”
Woods’ four other birdies came on putts from 8 feet and in. That included the par-5 ninth, where he pounded a 346-yard drive past McIlroy.
“I still have it in there,” said the winner of 74 PGA Tour titles, including 14 major championships. “I just choose not to use it all the time like I used to. … But it’s nice to be healthy again to carry it 310-plus.”
It should come as no surprise that Woods has played well again here. He won at East Lake in 2007 and has finished second four times. What’s more, he has finished in the top 11 in seven of his last 10 Tour starts, including two victories.
“Most of the summer I’ve played well,” said Woods, who turns 37 in December. “It’s just a continuation. It was nice to get that week off last week and get a little bit of rest.
“I felt fresh today.”
But not intimidated.