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-par 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.