HUMBLE, Texas – He waited about 18 hours to let the frenzy of interviews and voicemails to settle down, then he tapped out a quick text to the Official World Golf Ranking's new No. 1.
Simple and to the point. A clean handoff.
What belonged to Rory McIlroy Monday morning was now back in Tiger Woods’ hands. Along, McIlroy added, with the pressure, scrutiny and, of course, that favorite tag heading into the year’s first major.
McIlroy didn’t watch much of Monday’s rain-delayed finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, just enough to know how well Tiger played in his third win of the year; just enough to know he has work to do if he wants to grab that No. 1 spot back any time soon.
“It’s a by-product of playing well and winning golf tournaments,’’ McIlroy said. “He’s done that more than anyone this year and, you know, if he can take care of that, then that takes care of itself.’’
McIlroy, one of the headliners in this week’s field at the Shell Houston Open, knows that all too well. He held the No. 1 spot three different times last year and was No. 1 from his PGA Championship win until Monday afternoon.
And, yes, he took the change of the guard in stride.
“It really doesn’t bother me,’’ he said. “I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win. I think this is a good week to try and get into contention – you have a chance with the Masters coming up.’’
But make no mistake. McIlroy is focused on playing well at Redstone where the course conditions are set up to emulate Augusta National. He tied for 19th in his first Shell Houston Open in 2009, but missed the cut the following year.
This year, he has struggled with his swing and an equipment change, but things began to turn around at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. “I saw some good signs there,’’ he said.
And, yes, Tiger’s struggles with this game – as well as off the course – have helped McIlroy put his into perspective.
“We’re not machines,’’ he said. “We’re humans. We go through highs and lows. It’s just sport and that’s golf.
“You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit. I guess you just got to take the rough and the smooth and just try and treat those, I guess treat those times, sort of play and be patient and know that you're working on right things.”
His goal this week? Get into contention and see how his game holds up. And, of course, have a go at a win.
After Trump Doral, he decided not to play at Bay Hill and spent the week working on his game at Miami Municipal Golf Course, which was near where his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki was playing in the Miami Masters. He took his own golf balls and the club shagged them for him.
And Saturday, with Wozniacki looking on, he was hitting balls with Novak Djokovic. “He’s got a good back swing,’’ McIlroy chuckled. “A lot of rotation for a tennis player, but he needs to work on stuff.’’
He smiled. “It was a good week, fun week. Actually got some good practice in so it was nice.’’
Got away from the glare, too. “You know, it’s nice to just go – not just go about my business and no one cares, but you go about and not be, I guess, the most talked about person in golf.’’
Just one of the two most. The change of the guard atop the rankings sets up the possibility – if McIlroy’s game continues to come around – a lot of 1 vs. 2 talk going into the Masters.
But before that, McIlroy is taking a UNICEF field trip to Haiti next week. He went in June 2011 and it was quite a trip.
“It was a very humbling place and it was a very eye-opening experience for me,’’ he said.
After that, it’s off to Augusta and a chance to challenge No. 1 for No. 1 again.
"(Tiger has) been the man in golf for the last 15 years, I guess, and it’s great for golf to have him play well. And, you, know, hopefully, I can try to keep up with him.’’
Exactly the point Tiger made back to him via text Tuesday morning.
What did he text back? Rory grinned.
"Told me to get (moving) and win this week."