He reached No. 1 for the first time on a big stage, in a manner that Woods could appreciate. McIlroy won the Honda Classic with Woods charging at him with a 62.
But he didn't stay there.
McIlroy returned to No. 1 twice more since March, but not for long. Luke Donald, who is not nearly as flashy and doesn't have a major title to his credit, is not going away very easily. Six weeks ago, McIlroy talked about wanting to separate himself in the ranking and leave as little doubt as possible about who was No. 1 in golf.
That has proven to be tougher than he thought.
"You've really got to have a good stretch of golf, say a six-month period, where you might win three or four times, and you have a lot of good finishes," he said. "And maybe then, you can start to establish a bit of a lead. But for the time being, everyone just seems to be pretty close. And it looks like that's the way it's going to be for a while."
And while McIlroy keeps battling Donald for golf supremacy, another challenge may be looming.
With his second win of the year against another strong field, Woods is at No. 4 and perhaps starting to close in.
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