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McIlroy happy to be chasing Tiger

Rory McIlroy takes time out to watch Danish girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis in Miami.

Story highlights

  • Rory McIlroy says losing his No. 1 spot to Tiger Woods could help him return to form
  • Woods regained the top ranking with his eighth career win at Bay Hill Invitational
  • McIlroy aims to play his way into form at the Houston Open this weekend
  • Victory would return the 23-year-old to top spot ahead of next month's Masters

Rory McIlroy says he is happy to go into next month's Masters "under the radar" after losing his world No. 1 spot to Tiger Woods.

McIlroy's form slump since switching to Nike equipment this year in a reported $250 million deal had been the major talking point in the golf season so far, but Woods' resurgence has eclipsed that.

The 23-year-old congratulated the American 14-time major winner with a text message after Woods regained top spot with victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, Florida on Sunday -- his third tournament win this year.

McIlroy told reporters ahead of this week's Houston Open that Woods texted back to tell his young Northern Irish rival to "pull his finger out" and raise his game.

However, McIlroy suggested that maybe he can perform better as he chases his first Masters title in two weeks' time if he is not favored to win at Augusta.

"I didn't think I could go into the Masters under the radar," McIlroy, a winner of two major championships, told the PGA Tour website. "I can go in a little bit underneath him.

"So in a way it's not a bad thing (to lose the top ranking)."

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McIlroy enhanced his growing reputation last season, becoming world No. 1 with victory at the PGA Tour's Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida in March before winning a second major at Kiawah Island, host of the 2012 PGA Championship in August.

One year later McIlroy is battling to regain that momentum. He apologized after walking out of the defense of his Honda Classic crown earlier this month after a disastrous start to the second round, and has he is yet to win a tournament in 2013 -- though he showed promising form in the final round of the subsequent WGC-Cadillac Championship event that Woods won.

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Last week, instead of entering the fray with Woods at Bay Hill, McIlroy spent the weekend on the sidelines watching his tennis star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki compete in the WTA tournament in Miami.

"People left me alone, it was fine," McIlroy said. "It's nice to just go about my business and no-one cares, to not be the most talked about person in golf.

"We're not machines, we're humans. 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 play and be patient and know that you're working on the right things."

McIlroy aims to get back in the swing -- and respond to the gauntlet thrown down by Woods at the Houston Open, where he could return to the No. 1 ranking with victory.

"I want to get back to getting into contention in tournaments and trying to win," he said.

"I think this is a good week to try and get into contention -- you have a chance with the Masters coming up.''

Woods is not playing this week, but they will reunite at Augusta when the American tees up for his tilt at a fifth Masters title -- and his first major win since 2008.

"(Tiger has) been the man in golf for the last 15 years, and it's great for golf to have him play well," McIlroy said.

"And, you, know, hopefully, I can try to keep up with him.''