Tiger Woods's return leaves Rory McIlroy playing catch-up

Two weeks ahead of the first major in 2013 and the golfing landscape is much changed with Tiger Woods overhauling Rory McIlroy at the top of the rankings.

While McIlroy’s season to date has largely been stuck in reverse, Woods has been in overdrive. The new number one has recaptured the form and aura of old to eclipse the youngster from Northern Ireland.

When the season began it was all about McIlroy. The 23-year-old had rounded off 2012 with five birdies in a row to secure the European Tour’s finale in Dubai.

The lucrative Nike deal was about to be signed and the two-time major champion was undoubtedly the hottest story in the game.

Since then, Woods has ruthlessly dispatched such a notion with three victories that have brought him back to golf’s summit.

McIlroy, meanwhile, has been left to piece back together his game after a miserable start with his new equipment.

Even though a corner appears to have been turned with an excellent weekend that brought him a share of eighth place in his last outing at Doral, McIlroy is still far from bullish about his form.

“Tiger’s consistency is definitely back and he’s playing well week in, week out”

Rory McIlroy

Indeed, McIlroy admits it is something of a relief to no longer hold the number one tag: “I guess, at the minute yeah, with me trying to get my game back to where I think it can be.

“It’s nice, not to just go about my business and no one cares, but to go about it and not be the most talked about person in golf.”

There is no doubting who is dominating the conversation at the moment. Woods is not just on the tip of the tongue in golf but transcending through sport.

“Miami Heat [basketball] are on an unbelievable run at the moment, but all my office wants to discuss is Tiger,” one leading American sports reporter told me here in Houston.

Even though he has not yet had a major in which to demonstrate it, we can be in little doubt that Woods is back to the intimidating heights of his pre-scandal career as he sets his sights on next month’s Masters.

It was noticeable how relaxed and confident he appeared in his pre-tournament press conference ahead of his latest victory at Bay Hill.

Woods’s three victories in 2013 have come at Torrey Pines, Doral and now Arnold Palmer’s stamping ground in Orlando. All are venues where he has enjoyed huge success in the past.

They are courses that fit his eye but the way he has dominated those events has generated the aura of old. It will be a valuable tool to take to Augusta in two weeks.

McIlroy wouldn’t be drawn when I suggested this to him, but acknowledged a sea change in his friend’s game: “I think his consistency is definitely back and he’s playing well week in, week out.Image

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