McIlroy congratulates Tiger, who gives a push

Rory Mcilroy practices on Miami Municipal Golf Course on Friday.

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HUMBLE, Texas – Rory McIlroy is World No. 2 and not bothered in the least by the demotion.

For most of the past year, McIlroy stood on the top of the golfing world and – for a while – put the name Tiger Woods in the rearview mirror. That all ended Monday when his friend Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the eighth time and his third PGA Tour event in 2013.

The victory, Woods' 77th, not only has pushed McIlroy off a lofty perch, but now the Northern Irishman believes he has been relegated to the background with a cadre of others on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy texted his friend Tuesday morning to congratulate Woods on his win. Woods responded in a kidding yet pointed manner.

“Just congratulated him and stuff as well, and he said everything was good there,” McIlroy said of his back-and-forth with Woods. “Told me to get my finger out of my (rear end) and win this week.“

Playing this week at the Shell Houston Open, McIlroy makes his final preparation for the Masters. While his coach from Northern Ireland, Michael Bannon, is with McIlroy this week (as he was at Honda and Doral), the purpose is more for fine-tuning than an overhaul.

“You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit,” McIlroy said. “I guess you've 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.”

As lost as he was at the Honda Classic, when he walked off the course in the middle of the second round and withdrew, McIlroy is in a much better place.

It started the next week with a 65 in the final round at Doral and continued as McIlroy hit balls last week at Miami Municipal, a public course in Key Biscayne, where he spent time with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish tennis star who was playing in the Miami Masters.

“I brought my own balls with me,” McIlroy said of his practice sessions at Miami Municipal. “They collected them. They gave me them again the next day. It was nice. The turf was OK. People left me alone.”

With his game in much better shape than it was at the beginning of March, and with Woods the hottest thing in golf, McIlroy can focus on actual competition while facing less media attention.

McIlroy enters the Shell Houston Open as the 8-1 favorite among Las Vegas oddsmakers to win.

“Getting into contention is the main goal,” McIlroy said at Redstone Golf Club's Tournament Course. “Try to have a chance to win on Sunday, so then, you know, we'll go from there.”

“From there” is Augusta. While McIlroy certainly will be in the discussion for his first green jacket, many think that Woods is the headliner in two weeks with everyone else the supporting cast. It's something that again McIlroy is not miffed about.

“I didn't think I could go into the Masters under the radar,” McIlroy said. “I can go in a little bit underneath him, so in a way it's not a bad thing.”

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