ATLANTA -- Rory McIlroy has dismissed the idea that he fills Tiger Woods with fear, even though Woods, tongue firmly in cheek, has started calling him "The Intimidator."
On the eve of their latest clash -- one with a $10 million jackpot at the end of it -- McIlroy simply laughed when asked about recent comments by Greg Norman, who sparked a debate heading into the Tour Championship by offering the opinion that Woods now realizes he is not the best player in golf any more.
The 30-man field this week includes eight players under the age of 30 and five over 40.
"What I'm seeing is that Tiger's really intimidated by Rory," Norman said in an interview earlier this week. "I think he knows his time is up."
Asked for his reaction, current No. 1 McIlroy, winner of three of his last four events, would have none of it.
"No, how can I intimidate Tiger Woods?," he said on Wednesday. "I mean, the guy's got 70-whatever PGA Tour wins, 14 majors -- he's been the biggest thing ever in our sport.
"How could 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 (Norman) got that from, but it's not true."
McIlroy does not think he has ever been intimidated by Woods either, though.
"I don't think intimidated is the right word," he said, "more just in awe of his achievements, but never intimidated."
The Tour Championship is the last leg of the FedExCup playoffs and McIlroy and Woods are paired together again because they are first and second in the points standings. It is winner-take-all between them despite McIlroy storming to victory in the last two tournaments.
In fact, the top five on the table -- Nick Watney is third, Phil Mickelson fourth and Brandt Snedeker fifth -- all know that if they win on Sunday they not only take the tournament purse but also the FedEx bonus.
And such is the system that all 30 players in the field, including McIlroy's Ryder Cup teammates Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, all have a chance of scooping the bonus payment.
For many fans, of course, this week is just a warm-up act before Europe defends the Ryder Cup at Medinah in Chicago. A singles clash between McIlroy and Woods there would be the hottest ticket in town and both are keen to see it happen.
"That would be fun," said Woods, who had some thoughts of his own on Norman's comments.
"It's not like somebody is going to take your block off," he said. "This is a different kind of sport -- we play our own game and see where it falls at the end of the day.
"In tennis you can do that (intimidate) because you are playing against somebody," he added. "Here nobody is affecting your shots."
On a possible Ryder Cup duel, McIlroy stated: "It's about the team -- it's not about one guy playing another guy. Of course there are a lot of people that would like to see it and it would be very exciting to be a part of. But I just want to win as many points as possible for Europe and that's all I can really do.
"I'm not going to sit here and lie and say I wouldn't enjoy it because I would," he added. "But I think that's up to the captain to decide where I play and where he wants to put me and whatever decision he makes is good with me."
McIlroy doesn’t mind in the least that he finds himself paired with Woods again on Thursday at East Lake.
"It's great," he added. "Every time that we get paired up, I'm obviously very excited for it. It's a great buzz around the group.
"It's still a great thing for me," he said. "You'll have to ask him if he feels the same way."
Woods knows he cannot match McIlroy's recent results, which have included a runaway win in the last major of the season, but is happy enough with his current form. He came in third in the Deutsche Bank Championship and fourth in the BMW Championship to set himself up for a crack at a third FedExCup title.
"This has been a really good season," said Woods, who after two winless years on the PGA Tour has captured three tournaments. "I'm now one of the better drivers -- that's exciting for me -- and my short game is starting to come around too, which is nice."