If Tiger Woods was scared of Rory McIlroy in Thursday’s opening round of the Tour Championship, the 18-hole co-leader sure did his best to hide it.
Playing with the two-time major winner for the fifth time in the 2012 version of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Woods made a certain Australian golfer eat his words by proving he could still kick his game into overdrive on occasion -- even as his heir apparent looked on.
“I can reach back and hit one every now and again like I did on nine,” Woods, who fired a 4-under 66 to share the lead with Justin Rose, told Golf Channel. “I still got that extra little gear.”
For the fourth time in their five head-to-head meetings in the playoffs, Woods got the better of his young friend. Indeed, McIlroy, who shot a 69 and will head into Friday’s second round tied for 12th, agreed it was time to shelve Greg Norman’s silly comments about how No. 1 had No. 2 shaking in his golf shoes.
“Yeah, I think so, I think so,” McIlroy said about whether the golf world should put to rest Norman’s ridiculous claim that the Northern Irishman “intimidated” Woods. “I think you can see out there today he’s definitely not intimidated by me and I don’t think I’m intimidated by him.
“We’re really enjoying -- we’re both playing well at the minute,” McIlroy said. “It’s great to see and hopefully we have a lot of great battles in the years to come.”
As for the current tilt, Woods showed why he has won twice at East Lake and has finished second four times. He simply gobbled up the course, and were the contest to end today, he would cash the $10 million FedEx Cup winner’s paycheck. Of course, with much golf left to play, he’ll have to settle for being the projected No. 1 -- up from second place, where he began the week.
Woods played solid, consistent golf, finding 10 or 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens in regulation. He also needed just 26 putts, a total that put him in a tie for second in the 30-player field.
“As a whole, I played well today. I hit a lot of good shots,” Woods said. “Made a few putts out there, but actually I had a couple of good up‑and‑downs, which is nice. This golf course was, I think it was probably gettable today. Because it was playing so hot the ball was flying forever.”
McIlroy, who entered the event atop the FedEx Cup points standings, ended the day tied with Phil Mickelson and five others. He said he was thankful for a week off between the third leg of the FedEx Cup series, the BMW Championship, and this week’s tournament. He wondered, however, if the break may have stalled the roll he was on after winning back-to-back events, the Deutsche Bank and BMW.
“I felt like I needed the week off. We’ve played a lot of golf leading into these playoffs, starting with the British Open, so I thought the week off was probably needed for a lot of guys,” McIlroy noted. “Saying that, it might have been a good thing to try and keep the momentum going, but I felt like it wouldn’t be too hard to pick up where I left off.”
For sure, the hiatus did not hurt his constant companion, who reared back and smashed a huge drive past him on the par-5 ninth hole. His prodigious blast may have surprised onlookers like Norman, but not the author of the mammoth tee shot.
“I still have it in there, I just choose not to use it on every shot like I used to,” Woods said. “It has to fit my eye and then when it does I can let it go. It’s nice to be able to have that again, to feel healthy enough to where I can carry the ball 310-plus.
“It feels good,” he said.
McIlroy, who brazenly challenged Woods before the 2010 Ryder Cup, has stowed such bulletin board material since striking up a friendly rivalry with his boyhood icon.
“There’s no point in really having enemies out here,” McIlroy said. “We get on great and it’s nice to be able to play [Woods] from time to time.”
Perhaps golf fans will be treated to another glimpse of the marquee pairing in a couple of Sunday finales -- to the FedEx Cup, and a week later at the Ryder Cup.