Rory McIlroy, left, and Tiger Woods chat as they wait to tee off in the Cadillac Championship at Doral earlier this month. McIlroy sent a text message to Woods on Tuesday congratulating him on winning at Bay Hill and taking the No. 1 world ranking from McIlroy. Wilfredo Lee Associated Press

McIlroy is OK with Woods being No. 1

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3C
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013 - 6:40 am

HUMBLE, Texas – Rory McIlroy sent a text message to Tiger Woods on Tuesday, congratulating him on winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and taking over the No. 1 world ranking again.

Woods responded by telling McIlroy to get going – he put it a bit more crudely than that – and win this week's Houston Open. A victory would put McIlroy back at No. 1, a spot he held for 32 weeks before Woods' latest win.

For now, McIlroy is fine with Woods holding the world's top ranking, especially with the Masters coming up. "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."

McIlroy skipped Bay Hill and says he had a "good week, a fun week" in Miami. He watched girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play in the pro tennis event in Key Biscayne, Fla., then stopped by a municipal course Saturday night to hit range balls in relative anonymity with Wozniacki and Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 tennis player.

McIlroy won four times in 2012, including the PGA Championship that catapulted him to No. 1. He signed a Nike contract in the offseason but has gotten off to a rough start this year, raising questions about his adjustment to the new equipment.

He missed the cut at Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and then walked off the course during the second round of the Honda Classic, citing frustration. He finally saw signs of progress when he shot a 65 in the final round at Doral and tied for eighth, and he's confident he's ready to contend at Redstone this week.

"We're not machines, we're humans," McIlroy said. "You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit. I guess you've just got to take the rough and the smooth and just try and treat those times, sort of play and be patient and know that you're working on the right things."

Maybe McIlroy can learn from Woods as he tries to dig out of his early-season slump. Woods has won three times in five starts this year, looking as dominant as ever after going through injuries, personal turmoil and a swing change.

"I've always said he's been one of the greatest fighters on a golf course," McIlroy said. "If things aren't going his way, he'll dig in and get whatever he can out of a round. He can repeat day-in, day-out, that attitude and that single-mindedness or that drive or motivation, I think that's his most impressive aspect."

Tiger ad pushback – Nike's exuberance over Woods' return to No. 1 in the world is understandable. The company stood by Woods through his infidelity-fueled fall from grace, quietly waiting for its superstar to start winning again.

But its choice of a celebratory quotation is being criticized.

A Nike ad on social media sites features the quote "Winning takes care of everything" over a photo of Woods lining up a putt. Woods often says that when asked about his ranking and other golf-related matters.

"Nice message that you are sending to children," wrote one commenter on Nike Golf's Facebook page. "So it doesn't matter what kind of person you are, what your morals are, as long as you win?"

Nike officials defended the ad.

"Tiger has always said he competes to win," the Nike spokeswoman Beth Gast said in a statement. "When asked about his goals such as getting back to No. 1, he has said consistently winning is the way to get there. The statement references that sentiment and is a salute to his athletic performance."

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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