Advantage Tiger Woods in the latest in a long line of battles with the young apprentice Rory McIlroy. Woods carded 66 here to sit at the summit of the leaderboard alongside Justin Rose after the first round of the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Woods will have Rose for second-round company – the pair are four under – with McIlroy three shots back. McIlroy's Friday partner will be Phil Mickelson.
"I enjoy playing with Rory, he's a great kid," Woods said. "Over the years there are certain pairings I have enjoyed and Rory is one of those."
Woods lipped out with a birdie putt on the 17th and passed up an opportunity from 11ft on the last when either would have handed him the first-round lead.
An earlier highlight arrived on the 12th, where Woods chipped in from the back of the green; the 35-year-old produced identical halves of 33 and hit 10 from a possible 14 fairways.
"Most of the summer I have been playing well and this is just a continuation of it," Woods said. "It was nice to get a week off last week and have a little bit of rest. I felt fresh."
McIlroy lacked the sparkle he has displayed recently – perhaps inevitably given the hype surrounding him – and started the day by dropping a shot on the opening hole. There was a recovery and further indications of his growing closeness to Woods but the world No1 has a fight on his hands to secure the $10m (£6m) bounty from the last leg of the FedEx Cup play-offs.
"I think you could see he's definitely not intimidated by me," said McIlroy of Woods, in reference to Greg Norman's controversial claims earlier in the week. "It was a great atmosphere, a great buzz and I just wish I could have scored a couple of shots better. But I'm in a good position."
Rose had earlier threatened to upstage Woods and McIlroy. He started the day ranked 24th in the FedEx standings but rose to a projected position of third courtesy of his 66. Rose finished his day's work by holing out from 52ft on the 18th, thereby claiming the lead; he was joined by Woods almost two hours later.
"From a FedEx Cup point of view it's a position of having everything to gain and nothing to lose, really," Rose said. "Last year I didn't feature in the tournament and this year being a little looser out there is maybe going to help me. I think I've got only this tournament on my mind, a lot of the other guys have two trophies on their minds.
"Just being able to play in this tournament is a good feeling. You get to play against 21 of the top 22 players in the world. So it gets your juices flowing to be able to play in a tournament like this and play against the best. I scrambled well and my bunker play was sharp."
The latest American lauding of McIlroy came from one of their former Ryder Cup captains. Paul Azinger offered a firm assessment of the part he believes McIlroy will play for Europe against the United States at Medinah next week.
"The key to this Ryder Cup is Rory McIlroy," Azinger said. "Just like we used to do with Seve, and Europe has done with Tiger, the US has to find Rory, figure out what slot he's in, either teaming up with Graeme McDowell or in singles, and put our hottest players against him.
"And if they aren't our biggest names, all the better, because then they'll have everything to gain. If we can beat Rory, we win this Ryder Cup."
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