Rory McIlroy can become Ireland’s first word No 1 if he wins the Accenture Match Play title this week.Picture: Fran Caffrey Rory McIlroy believes that Tiger Woods will still be the best player in the world even if he goes on to win the WGC-Accenture Match Play and takes over from Luke Donald as world No 1.

Donald’s 5 and 4 defeat to Ernie Els means that world No 2 McIlroy and No 3 Lee Westwood have a chance of moving to the top of the rankings if they lift the trophy here on Sunday.

And McIlroy was certainly breathing a sigh of relief after struggling to beat South African George Coetzee two up after going three up with three to play.

He also kept Irish interest in the event alive following first round defeats for Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and he reckons he’ll be even more determined now to go all the way and become the first Irish world No 1.

“I always dreamed about becoming the best player in the world,” McIlroy said. “But there’s a difference between the best player in the world and being ranked the top of the rankings.  

“I would still say Tiger Woods is the best player in the world, but he’s not No. 1 in the world.

“It would be an incredible achievement, a great honour to add my name to the list of players that have been No. 1 in the world.  

“I’ve always dreamed about it and I didn’t think it would come so fast, at 22.  It shows if you work hard and dedicate yourself, in the end great things can happen.”

McIlroy must beat Denmark’s Anders Hansen in today’s second round to keep his boyhood dream alive and he will need to improve on his performance against Coetzee if he is to have a chance.

One down after 10 holes, he didn’t make his first birdie until the 11th but it was the first of four wins in row as he stormed three up with four to play.

After a half in par at the 15th, McIlroy opened the door for Coetzee when he blocked his tee shot 40 yards right of the target at the 16th and after losing that hole, he promptly lost the next as well when he lipped out from four feet for par.

Coetzee could have forced extra holes with a win at the 18th but the 25 year old three putted from 70 feet, missing a five footer for par after McIlroy had lagged his 50 foot birdie attempt to just three feet.

“It’s always nice to get past the first one,” McIlroy said.  “I struggled to finish it off.

“It’s not great to see the way George finished the match off missing that short putt.  But obviously I was relieved.  It’s just nice to get through tomorrow.

“That stretch where I won four in a row felt like a played some good golf.  I’ll need to play more of that sort of stuff tomorrow against Anders.”

As for the world No 1 chase, he said: “To be honest, I came in here yesterday and talked about if I play well and just win matches that will take care of itself.  But obviously it’s another incentive waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of that day, at the end of the week you could be World No.1.”

McIlroy cannot face Woods until Sunday’s semi-finals but the American was fortunate to escape with a one hole victory over Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez Castaño.

After getting up and down from sand for a match clinching par, Woods said: “It was just a match that was just back and forth.  And we both made our share of mistakes; there’s no doubt about that.  But somehow I was able to move on.”

Woods will now face compatriot Nick Watney, who hammered an out-of-sorts Darren Clarke by 5 and 4.

As for McDowell, the Ulsterman made six birdies but lost 2 and 1 to YE Yang, his nemesis in the third round last year.

“This is the start of a great run of golf and I am very happy with where my game is at and made some nice clutch putts out there today,” he said.

“Everything is ticking over but this event just gives you nothing if you run into the wrong guy and YE played beautiful today.”

The top seeds endured their worst day in the event since it began in 1999 with just 17 of the top 32 winning their opening matches.

Three of the number one seeds made it through, however, with Donald’s heavy defeat to Els the only shock.

Westwood beat Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts 3 and 1 while Germany’s Martin Kaymer had a 4 and 2 win over Australian Greg Chalmers.