Rory McIlroy can return to world No 1 with a third major title in the US Masters this week, providing Tiger Woods does not finish second on his own.
McIlroy closed the gap on Woods slightly by finishing second in the Valero Texas Open on Sunday, carding a closing 66 to finish two shots behind Scotland’s Martin Laird. The 23-year-old can take back the top spot by claiming his first green jacket at Augusta National, scene of his final-round meltdown in 2011 when he led by four shots before collapsing to a closing 80.
The Northern Irishman will have to finish inside the top three to have any chance of passing Woods, who has won three times already this season and is seeking a fifth Masters title. Woods has not won a major since the US Open in 2008, with injury problems and a sex scandal that cost him his marriage to Swede Elin Nordegren prompting many to write off his chances of overhauling the 18 major titles of Jack Nicklaus.
Unsurprisingly, Woods does not share those views, with his close friend Notah Begay telling Sports Illustrated the 14-time major winner wants to win at least six more. “He is focused on 20,” Begay said. “That may be a little hard to believe given what’s transpired in the last three years, but that’s where his focus is. He thinks he is capable of winning 20 majors.”
At the age of 37, Woods has won 14 majors from 60 starts as a professional, exactly the same as Nicklaus at 37. For his part, McIlroy has two major championships under his belt, winning the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship by eight shots, and stated last week he would not care if he missed ten cuts in a row as long as he won a major every year.
In four previous Masters appearances he has missed the cut once and finished 20th, 15th and 40th, but his performance in Texas suggests he is finding form at the right time after a poor start to the season.