Rory McIlroy can restore Europe’s recent dominance at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking by making an immediate return to the World Number One spot with victory in the Shell Houston Open on the US PGA Tour.
The Northern Irishman was replaced at the game’s summit by Tiger Woods after the American won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday.
Woods’ victory ended Europe’s 29 month reign at the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, which began when Lee Westwood replaced the 14-time Major Champion as World Number One in October 2010.
Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and latterly McIlroy have all topped the World Ranking since, with US PGA Champion McIlroy the incumbent for the past 32 weeks.
McIlroy would reclaim the crown with victory in America this week, and would consequently head to Augusta National as World Number One for the Masters Tournament, the season’s first Major.
Otherwise it will be Woods who will assume that honour after he claimed the top spot for an 11th time in his career by finishing two strokes clear of Englishman Justin Rose at Bay Hill.
McIlroy told the Daily Mail: "Now the goal is to get into contention. To have a chance to win on Sunday, and have that feeling again before going to Augusta."
He was also pleased to see Woods back to his best. "He's been the man in golf for the last 15 years, I guess, and it's great for golf to have him playing well and hopefully I can just try and keep up with him."
Rose also had cause for celebration in the latest publication of the World Ranking after reaching a career-high of Number Three following his superb start to the season.
The Ryder Cup star finished joint runner-up in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January and tied eighth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship last month, as well as recording top five finishes in the Honda Classic and now the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the US PGA Tour in 2013.
Rose leapfrogged former World Number One Donald, who drops to fourth with American Brandt Snedeker completing the top five.
Meanwhile, Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Dane Thobjørn Olesen broke into the top 30 and top 40 respectively following top ten finishes at Bay Hill, while Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat jumped 85 places to 85th position following his maiden European Tour victory in the Maybank Malaysian Open at the weekend.
In addition to McIlroy’s bid to return to World Number One, the focus this week will be on the battle to break into the World’s Top 50 on Monday in order to secure an invite to the Masters Tournament.
Stephen Gallacher (64), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (65), Marcel Siem (72), Richie Ramsay (73) and Scott Jamieson (74) will all be hoping to book their ticket to Augusta National with victory at the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco.
Henrik Stenson (53) and Shane Lowry (69) will be looking to do the same in Houston, while Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (59) plays on home soil in the Chiangmai Golf Classic on the Asian Tour.