All eyes on Rory as he seeks to silence Tiger and regain world number 1 spot
Published 26/03/2013 | 17:03
ATTENTION will turn back from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy this week as the Northern Irishman attempts to ensure his rival's stay at the top of the rankings will be the shortest possible one.
Woods returned to world number one yesterday for the first time since October 2010 after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third tournament victory of the year.
This week will be his 624th at the top but, with Woods not playing again until the Masters on April 11, McIlroy has the chance to take the position back straight away with victory at the Shell Houston Open.
The 23-year-old's struggles this season have been well documented but there are signs McIlroy is rediscovering his form, as evidenced by his seven-under-par 65 in the last round of the WGC Cadillac Championship earlier this month.
Woods' elevation ends a period of European dominance in the rankings, with Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and McIlroy all topping the standings since the American's fall.
Woods admitted after his victory it has been "a few years" since he felt as good heading into the Masters and he is a clear favourite to win his first major since the US Open in 2008.
The 37-year-old told reporters: "Over a period of time it's been years since I've hit the ball this consistently day in and day out.
"I'm getting there. I'm very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths. One of the things that we need to continue to work on is getting it more refined.
"Because my good ones are really good. It's just making sure the bad ones aren't that bad, whether it's a driver, three wood, long iron, wedge, whatever it is, that I'm missing the ball in the correct spots.
"That's getting way better. I can still continue to improve and clean up my short game."
Putting has been Woods' major Achilles heel in the five years since he won a major and the improvement in that part of his game provides the main source of optimism for the Masters and beyond.
He said: "The three events that I've won, I've putted well. It certainly helped me out there at Doral and got me into position where I felt like I was now putting like I did at Torrey.
"And I've basically carried that on in the last couple of weeks that I've played, and that feels good, especially when the wind is blowing like this.
"To be that steady and hit the ball that solidly, that flush into the grain where the wind is blowing and you can't miss and get away with it.
"You've got to hit it pure and I've been able to do that and I've made my share of putts. Especially some really key putts."
Woods' high-profile personal problems and a serious knee injury contributed to him dropping as low as 58 in the rankings, but his gradual rise back to the top is now missing only a major title.
Describing the process, he said: "You've got to be able to do it at home first. That's where it all starts and do it consistently.
"Then it feeds into coming out here and being able to do it Thursday, Friday and maybe a Saturday afternoon - and then ultimately down the stretch on Sunday of a tournament. Then you've got to do it in a major championship.
"So that process has been evolving and you can see the stepping stones. Throughout my career when I've changed my game and have made changes you can see the incremental progress I've made.
"Then eventually I get to a point where I start winning golf tournaments."