ATLANTA - Intimidated? Whatever.
On a day that simply could not have been better for golf -- blue skies, temperatures in the 70s, greens as welcoming as a mother at Thanksgiving -- Tiger Woods posted an opening-round 66, four under par, to hold a share of the lead with Justin Rose.
And Rory McIlroy, he of the intimidating game? Well, he's three strokes back after playing alongside Woods in the day's final group. Other notables: Phil Mickelson matched McIlroy and will be his playing partner on Friday. Brandt Snedeker bested both of them by a stroke and sits tied for sixth. And Nick Watney? Uh ... he's ranked 30th, a.k.a. DFL.
This was the kind of day that you didn't want to leave strokes on the course, because nobody else was. The greens were "perfect," in Woods' words, and throughout the day roars echoed around the course in the faint but unmistakable style of another little Georgia course. "It was playing so hot," Woods said, "the ball was flying forever."
Woods has plenty of success at East Lake; in his last Tour Championships, he's got a win and three runner-up finishes. This marks the 27th time he's led or shared the lead after the first round; he would go on to win 13 of those tournaments.
Oh, and as for those battles with McIlroy? Woods is now 6-2 against the kid. And as Woods himself noted in a rare moment of candor, those head-to-head battles can even get into his head:
"I've [lost track of the field] a couple of times playing against Phil in the final group, and we've gotten run over," he said. "We were playing against each other and some guy gets off to a start, and we're 7‑under through 10, and next thing you know we're 2 or 3 back. It's happened a couple times where we just didn't have the leaderboards, so we don't really know what's going on. We're playing against each other. Next thing you know, you get through nine, and you look at the leaderboard, and it's like, 'hello. Now we've got to get going.'"
If Woods and McIlroy get paired together on the final day, expect both guys to pay plenty of attention with $10 million on the line. Yes, it's a long way to Sunday, but this first round goes to the old guy.