Tiger Woods en route to his 78th PGA Tour win. Photo: Kenneth E.Dennis / kendennisphoto.comRory McIlroy had a 4.72 point lead over world No 3 Tiger Woods at the top of the world rankings when he captured the DP World Tour Championhip for the fifth win of his sensational 2012 campaign.

Fast forward little more than five months Woods is now world No 1 and 3.23 points ahead of the 24-year old from Holywood.

The American has won three of his last five starts, four of his last seven and seven events in the last 12 months alone.

It’s time for McIlroy, who rallied late to finish eighth behind Woods in The Players, to step it up before Woods moves out of sight. But where will McIlroy put it all together again?

Set for a return to action in next week’s BMW PGA at Wentworth, a course where he’s 17 over for his last 10 rounds, it’s going to be a challenge for him to get back in the winner’s circle.

Before the US Open, he’s got The Memorial at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, where he missed the cut last year and Woods birdied three of his last four holes to tie the Golden Bear for second all-time with 73 career PGA TOUR victories

Sunday’s win was his second in The Players and his 78th on the PGA Tour, leaving him just four short of the record held by Sam Snead.

McIlroy’s game has shown signs of improvement since his early struggles in January, Feburary and March. But his putter was ice cold at Quail Hollow and at the Stadium Course.

“Tee to green I thought I played really, really well,” McIlroy said after finishing with four birdies in his last six holes for a closing 70.  “I just didn’t hole the putts.  So I’ve got a week off now, and I’ll go and work on that and see if I can improve around the greens.  If I can do that and keep hitting the ball the same way, I think it’s very, very close.

“I just didn’t hole them (earlier in the week).  I struggled a little bit reading them, and I got a bit indecisive.  I holed some nice ones coming in today.  But, yeah, I guess over the course of the week, if you keep seeing putts miss, it’s hard to visualize them going in the hole when you’re reading them, and that was sort of the problem this week.”

The statistics say that Woods was only marginally better than McIlroy on the greens at Sawgrass. McIlroy hit it closer and further but missed more fairways and greens. In short, it was ball-striking and course management that made the difference.

McIlroy at least made the cut for the first time at Sawgrass, though it is still not his favourite course in the world.

And while he has yet to win this year, he believes he’s close to getting his game in top shape for the US Open at tight Merion in a month’s time.

As for Padraig Harrington, the Dubliner slipped three places to 61st in the world after another disappointing week.

After opening with a 68, his game disintegrated after that with rounds of 76, 75 and 76 leaving him 75th in the 76 man field.

A total of 33 putts on Sunday summed up the current state of his game and while the belly putter might give him more consistent stroke, he’s plainly struggling for feel and confidence.

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