Shell Houston Open: Time for Rory McIlroy to Counter Tiger Woods

Carlos TorresContributor IMarch 27, 2013

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 07:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland waits to putt on the eighth hole during the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa on March 7, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tiger Woods reclaimed the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Rankings this past weekend with his win at Bay Hill. Now, it’s Rory McIlroy’s turn to counter with a win in the Shell Houston Open this weekend.

The 23-year-old McIlroy received the bigger share of the focus when Woods' career seemed destined to be in a permanent downward spiral. Now  it is only fitting that he battles Woods back for the world's No. 1 ranking.

With a victory, McIlroy would reclaim the world’s top ranking, a spot he owned for the previous 32 weeks. It would also officially kick into high gear a Woods-McIlroy rivalry, at least in the eyes of golf observers.

But those observers would not be the only ones craving for the rivalry to take flight. Nike, the PGA, marketing firms, potential sponsors and virtually anyone related to the sport of golf are lining up to take advantage of it.

One person certainly interested is Tiger Woods. And after regaining the No. 1 ranking, Woods has already taken his first shot at McIlroy:

But for now, it appears that McIlroy is fine with Woods holding the world's top ranking. As reported on the PGA Tour web page, McIlroy said, “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.’’

Those are not the words of someone looking to be the world's top golfer. Look back and try to find a moment when Woods would say something even remotely similar. You will not find it.

McIlroy later added, "(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.’’

True. But right now you would be expecting the world's top two golfers to start a year-long battle, going back and forth and giving us a gallant show—on and off the golf course. But you have to understand, McIlroy has to take care of his game first for this rivalry to succeed.

McIlroy switched to Nike after signing a $200 million deal in January, but he has displayed poor early season form. He also had been under tough scrutiny after exiting the Honda Classic with a very controversial walk-off.

But there was some good news for McIlroy after an uncertain start to his WGC Cadillac week. He blitzed through his final round at the WGC Cadillac with a bogey-free 65, posting a 10-under par and finishing in a tie for eighth place.

That gives him something positive to look at as he heads to the Redstone Golf Club Tournament Course in Humble, TX. He must use whatever momentum he might gather from that final round and transfer it to the Shell Houston Open.

Even if McIlroy doesn't win the Shell Houston Open, the main focus at The Masters the week after will be on him and Woods. It's inevitable, and he better start embracing it.

His priority, clearly, now has to be in getting back on top of his game. Wait, that is exactly what Woods just asked McIlroy to do.

McIlroy can do it. Just remember the incredible stretch of finishes that made him No. 1 for the first time, and you'll remember how formidable and dominant McIlroy can be. You see him playing his game and just know it.

Starting at the WGC Bridgestone and ending at the Honda Classic, in 13 tournaments McIlroy won twice, finished second four times and third twice, and once he finished fourth, fifth and sixth. That is eight top-three finishes in that stretch—simply amazing.

If there is place where a Woods-McIlroy mano-a-mano battle for the No. 1 ranking would be more than welcome, is at the Nike headquarters. They just happen to sponsor the world's best two golfers, who date two of the world’s most recognizable female athletes.

Marketers are just dreaming of the possibilities that lie ahead. Woods took the first shot. Now it's McIlroy's turn to counter Woods and claim back No. 1.