Tiger Woods moves ahead of Rory McIlroy in battle for $10m FedEx Cup booty

Woods drops old pals' act to move ahead of McIlroy in battle for $10m booty

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UPDATED:

23:50 GMT, 20 September 2012

If this is what Tiger Woods plays like when he is feeling intimidated, heaven help the rest of golf if he ever gets over it.

Greg Norman's bizarre belief that the
American has been somehow cowed by Rory McIlroy's recent success always
did sound fanciful, and certainly here as Woods breezed round East Lake
in a score of 66 to share the first round lead at the Tour Championship
with the Englishman Justin Rose.

McIlroy was more prosaic by comparison,
and was thankful for some exemplary bunker play to salvage a score of
69. As things stand, it is Woods who has moved ahead of the Northern
Irishman in the race for the FedEx Cup booty of $10million but this, of
course, was nothing more than a small jab to the ribs with three rounds
to play rather than a telling blow.

Behind you: Tiger Woods keeps a close eye on Rory McIlroy in Atlanta

Behind you: Tiger Woods keeps a close eye on Rory McIlroy in Atlanta

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McIlroy, for his part, was happy enough. 'Obviously I'd like to have been a couple of shots better but I'm still in a good position,' he commented.

The first three events of this FedEx race were marked by chumminess and almost non-stop banter between Tiger and Rory. On Thursday, there was a noticeable drop in the levels of conversation. Had they run out of things to say More likely, it was simply an awareness they are now in the final knockings of what has appeared for the past month to be their own private race to $10 million.

So it was that Woods had the game-face on he used to wear during all those major victories, while McIlroy's bore the strain we normally see on the final day of an event, not the first.

Just 30 players contest this event and,
in theory, all 30 could win the mammoth bonus. But such are the current
roles Woods and McIlroy occupy it felt like the first 14 pairings were
warm-up bouts.

Feeling it: McIlroy struggled early on in Atlanta

Scrappy: McIlroy struggled early on

Tiger's intent was there from the start. He should have birdied the first hole and did birdie the second and third.

McIlroy, by contrast, began like someone who has just had the biggest
cheque he has ever seen dangled under his nose. A pulled iron shot and a
clunked chip for an untidy bogey at the first was the classic start of a
man feeling a little tight, and another bogey looked on the cards when
he tweaked his tee shot into a bunker at the short second. A perfect
recovery, however, rescued a par.

At the third, with Woods tap-in distance away, McIlroy was looking over a
20ft birdie putt knowing if he missed it he would be three strokes
behind after three holes. But here was another indication of how much
his putting has improved, as he died the ball beautifully into the hole.

It was a fascinating start to another compelling duel, with Woods taking
this one. The great strides forward he has made with his driving were
on show here, and on the purest greens imaginable he made a few putts as
well.

Perfect start: Justin Rose

Perfect start: Justin Rose

McIlroy, by contrast, was a little scrappy, which was hardly surprising
given how hard it is to continue the momentum of successive victories.
It might be of interest to Norman that, of the five rounds McIlroy and
Woods have played together over the past month, Tiger has finished ahead
in four of them.

The feelgood factor established by the Europeans over the past six weeks
continued as Rose chipped in at the 14th and then holed a 50 footer at
the last on his way to his own four under par score.

A lot of things would have to go Rose's way for him to win the $10
million – Rory would have to finish outside the top 16 and Tiger outside
the top five, to name but two unlikely scenarios – but at least he has
made the perfect start.

As for the other home players, Luke Donald shot 71 and Lee Westwood a 72.