ATLANTA – In the one week Tiger Woods had away from golf during the FedEx Cup playoffs, Nick Faldo said he had lost his aura, Greg Norman said he was intimidated by Rory McIlroy and Johnny Miller claimed that Woods once wanted lessons from him.
Nice week, huh? Woods said, grinning.
Even better was to be back on the course Thursday at the Tour Championship, where Woods had the final word for at least for one day. He kept the ball in play at East Lake, chipped in for one of his six birdies and wound up with a 4-under 66 for a share of the lead with Justin Rose.
It was the first step toward what Woods hopes is a third FedEx Cup title, and another $10 million bonus.
I probably could have gotten a couple more out of it, Woods said about his opening round. But I was probably right on my number.
McIlroy, playing with Woods for the fifth time in these FedEx Cup playoffs, got up-and-down from short of the par-3 18th hole for a 69. McIlroy is trying to become the first player since Woods in 2006 to win three straight PGA Tour events in the same season, and he wasn’t overly alarmed by his start.
Wish I could have shot a couple shots better, McIlroy said. But I’m in a good position going into tomorrow.
The week began with Norman saying that Woods was intimidated by McIlroy, a suggestion that both players found amusing. While it’s doubtful that inspired Woods, he played as if he wasn’t ready to let McIlroy win a third straight playoff event and capture the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy, who has won three of his last four tournaments, and Woods are among the top five seeds at East Lake who only have to win the Tour Championship to claim the largest payoff in golf. Woods wasn’t interested in what anyone else was doing.
Just winning, he said. Winning takes care of everything.
Jack Nicklaus even weighed in on Norman’s comments to FoxSports.com. Nicklaus was doing a radio interview with ESPN 980 in Washington when told about Norman’s remarks that McIlroy intimidated Woods. Nicklaus said playfully, Quiet, Greg. Quiet. Down, boy.
I think Tiger has a lot of wins left in him, Nicklaus said.
Rose, who hasn’t won since the World Golf Championship at Doral in March, moved up the leader board late in his round with three birdies over the last five holes.
Scott Piercy ran off three straight birdies late in his round until he stumbled in the rough behind the 18th green and finished with a double bogey for a 67, tied with Steve Stricker, Matt Kuchar and Bo Van Pelt.
Woods has three runner-up finishes and a win the last four times he has played at East Lake, a course he likes.
Trouble is just right there in front of you, Woods said. It’s very simple, but it’s hard. It’s rare that you see guys go low here, but it’s very simple. Really, not a lot of trouble out here, but guys just have a hard time getting it low out there.