Rory McIlroy happy to stalk in the shadow of Tiger Woods

Ulsterman can return to No 1 with victory in Houston but is glad of a spell out of the spotlight

Over to you Rors was the thrust of the smartphone messaging from Tiger Woods. The new world No 1 can afford to be cocky after three wins in four stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this year.

Woods, who implored McIlroy to pull his finger out and win in Houston this week, will not appear again until the Masters in a fortnight. He has gone to Augusta three times with a hat-trick of victories behind him and, interestingly, has never converted in the first major of the year under such fecund circumstances.

McIlroy is delighted for the cover Woods’ ascent provides. World No 2 is not so bad for a 23-year-old, who, since his last outing at Doral, has  enjoyed the relative calm that comes with the relative obscurity. It could be short-lived. A win at the Shell Houston Open, which starts today, will return him to the No 1 berth and blow the bloody doors off the quieter life again.

Matters have settled to a degree since the Honda Classic meltdown. His final-round 65 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, which catapulted him from 56th at the end of day one to the top 10, was the kind of rehabilitation needed after the traumatic start to the year following his much-hyped transfer to Nike.

“It’s been tough. It’s sort of the second time I’ve had to go through it in the past 12 months. But you know, it is part and parcel of where I’m at in the game. I guess it would be nice if I didn’t have to go through it, if everything was just sort of even keel, but I guess that’s what attracts me to  people, these sort of ups and downs that I go through,” McIlroy said.

“I don’t think I’ll ever go through a period like that again in my career with everything that was going on. Now that that’s gone, it’s out of the way, I can just concentrate on the golf. And what I learned is you have to just stay the same player and the same person and not get caught up in the hype and the excitement and all the stuff that goes on around it. That’s something I’m trying to do a little bit better, and not read as much. I’m  trying to immerse myself in my own little world, and if I can do that, then that sort of blocks everything else out. It’s OK.”

McIlroy tees off at Houston in the marquee group alongside Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley. As much as a win would be welcome, all eyes are cast in the direction of victory at the Masters. “It would mean everything. I’m halfway to the career Grand Slam and that’s one of the pieces of the puzzle. The Open Championship is the other,” McIlroy said. “That’s a big goal for me is to try to win more major championships. I feel like I’m at a stage now where, sure I want to win other tournaments, but the majors are the focus.”

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