Continued from page 1

Woods and Norman have never had much of a relationship, and Woods wasn’t about to get wrapped up in an exchange of words Wednesday. Asked if he had seen Norman’s comments, he replied, “It’s got to be the hair, yeah.”

McIlroy knows that Woods saw the Norman comments, because Woods gave the kid another nickname.

“He calls me ‘The Intimidator,’ McIlroy said, stifling a laugh. “No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods? The guy’s got 75 or 70 whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors. He’s been the biggest thing ever in our sport. I mean, how can some little 23-year-old from Northern Ireland with a few wins come up and intimidate him? It’s just not possible. I don’t know where he got that from, but it’s not true.”

The only time Woods ever felt intimidated on the golf course was when he was 11. It was a story he told a decade ago about competing against a 12-year-old in a junior tournament when the older boy drove the green on a 290-yard hole. Woods still wound up winning.

On this day, either tired or annoyed by Norman’s comments, Woods gave an elementary response to this intimidation factor.

“This is a different kind of sport,” Woods said. “We go out there and we play our own game. And see where it falls at the end of the day. As I said, it’s not like you go over the middle and some guy 255 pounds is going to take your head off. This is about execution and going about your own business and seeing where it ends up at the end of the day. It’s just the nature of our sport, which is different than some sports.”

But if there’s a 255-pound linebacker in golf at the moment, it’s a freckled-face Boy Wonder who is on a roll that brings natural comparisons with Woods.

McIlroy has an average score of 68.1 in his last five tournaments, which dates to the Bridgestone Invitational where some swagger returned to his game. His confidence has never been higher. He showed up at Crooked Stick expecting to win the BMW Championship, and that’s what he did.

Now he has to avoid falling into the trap of being overconfident, a nice problem to have.

McIlroy is playing East Lake for the first time, a rugged test that puts a premium on fairways and greens. Lately, he’s been doing just about everything right.

“The way I’ve played since Firestone, it obviously gives you a lot of confidence,” McIlroy said. “But I think you have to guard against being overconfident, as well. You have to still go in and work hard. You’ve 30 players in this field, 30 of the best players in the world, and I’d be very naive to think that I’m just going to come in here and contend again and have a chance to win.

“I know I’m going to have to play very well,” he said. “And hopefully, I can do that.”