Rory McIlroy is bracing himself for heavy losses to Nike stablemates Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan over the next fortnight.
The Holywood ace, 23, made a stunning return to form after a nightmare run with a closing 65 and a share of eighth place behind Woods in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral on Sunday.
But Tiger’s 76th tour title, his 17th WGC win and his second victory of the year means he is now breathing down McIlroy’s neck in the world rankings.
And while McIlroy says he pays no attention to what Woods or his other rivals are doing, he could lose his world No 1 spot if Woods wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in two weeks’ time.
McIlroy won’t be able to do anything about it because he has vowed to take two weeks off before the Houston Open to get away from the pressure he’s been suffering since he walked out of the Honda Classic 10 days ago.
Rory said: “I’m not secluding myself, but [I just want to] sort of get away from this whole thing a bit and work on my game a bit more in peace and quiet; and get out to Houston and hopefully my game is in even better shape going into there.”
But he might still take a day off to play with basketball legend ‘Air’ Jordan in an exclusive member-guest pro-am at The Medalist in West Palm Beach next Monday. Knowing Jordan is famous for his huge bets, McIlroy said: “He’s asked me, so depending on what my schedule is and where I have to be, so we’ll see. I started to get into the NBA whenever I first came over here and played junior golf and stuff. Obviously I knew who he was.
“He’s one of the most famous athletes ever. It’s good to know him, see him around The Bear’s Club all the time. It’s sort of like, you know, ‘Hi, MJ’, I don’t know, it’s weird.”
Asked if he’d ever played Jordan, a keen gambler, for cash yet, McIlroy said: “No, I haven’t played him for money. I’ve heard it’s a lot, anyway. Whether it’s easy or not, it’s a lot.”
Woods played the first two rounds with McIlroy in Miami and saw signs of improvement from his new pal.
Woods said: “I think he’s on the right track. He started doing things a lot better on Friday than he did on Thursday and you could see it building.”
Asked if McIlroy made him feel somewhat young, Woods stopped, smiled and said: “Or does it make me feel old?”
Opting against adding Bay Hill to his schedule could be even more costly for McIlroy if Woods wins and takes the No 1 ranking for the first time since October 2010.
But McIlroy says he’s not worried about what his rivals are doing and only wants to get his game back into shape for the Masters in four weeks’ time.
Asked if he was excited about the weeks ahead with Woods and Phil Mickelson at the top of the leaderboard in Miami, McIlroy laughed and said: “Not for those guys. I’m excited for myself. I’m excited that I’m playing better.”
As for Woods getting back to the kid of form when he won four majors in a row more than a decade ago, McIlroy said: “To be honest I’ve never really thought about it that much.
“I guess back when I wasn’t at the level I am at now, obviously I would. But now I’m thinking about myself more.
“Whatever he does is sort of irrelevant to me. I’ve just got to go and try to play the best golf that I can.”
Pádraig Harrington certainly believes that 37-year old Woods can go on and win the four majors he needs match Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 majors.
Harrington said: “I do believe Tiger can do it. It is not a big deal for him. He’s got plenty of years, he’s comfortably got the game. He was in contention in four of them last year. He is going to do it.”
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