Woods responded by telling McIlroy to get going -- he put it a bit more crudely than that -- and win this week's Houston Open. A victory would put McIlroy back at No. 1, a spot he held for 32 weeks before Woods' latest win.
For now, McIlroy is fine with Woods holding the world's top ranking, especially with the Masters coming up in two weeks.
"I didn't think I could go into the Masters under the radar," McIlroy said. "I can go in a little bit underneath him. So, in a way, it's not a bad thing."
McIlroy skipped Bay Hill and says he had a "good week, a fun week" in Miami. He watched girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play in the pro tennis event in Key Biscayne, Fla., then stopped by a municipal course on Saturday night to hit range balls in relative anonymity with Wozniacki and Novak Djokovic, currently the world's No. 1 tennis player.
"People left me alone, it was fine," McIlroy said. "It's nice to just go, not just go about my business and no one cares, but you go about it and not be, I guess, the most talked about person in golf. It's a nice thing."
McIlroy won four times in 2012, including the PGA Championship that catapulted him to No. 1. He signed a Nike contract in the offseason, but has gotten off to a rough start this year, raising questions about his adjustment to his new equipment.
He missed the cut at Abu Dhabi, lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship and then walked off the course during the second round of the Honda Classic, citing frustration. He finally saw signs of progress when he shot a 65 in the final round at Doral and tied for eighth, and he's confident that he's ready to contend at Redstone this week.
"We're not machines, we're humans," McIlroy said. "You're going to have patches where you play great and have patches where you struggle a little bit. I guess you've just got to take the rough and the smooth and just try and treat those times, sort of play and be patient and know that you're working on the right things."
Maybe McIlroy can learn from Woods as he tries to dig out of his early-season slump. Woods has won three times in five starts this year, looking as dominant as ever after going through injuries, personal turmoil and a swing change.
"I've always said he's been one of the greatest fighters on a golf course," McIlroy said. "If things aren't going his way, he'll dig in and get whatever he can out of a round. He can repeat day-in, day-out, that attitude and that single-mindedness or that drive or motivation, I think that's his most impressive aspect."
McIlroy said he's seeing more good shots since the last round at Doral, his lowest of the season.
"The weekend at Doral was great and the way I've been hitting the ball recently," he said. "I've just got to keep working on it and keep working on it. I definitely feel like it's going in the right direction."
When he's done in Houston, McIlroy will fly to Haiti, where he'll meet with families affected by the 2010 earthquake there. He also made a trip to Haiti before going to the U.S. Open in 2011, and won his first major at Congressional with a record score.
McIlroy is an Ireland ambassador to UNICEF and has geared his own charity work toward children.
"The last time I went, it was a very humbling place and it was a very eye-opening experience for me," McIlroy said. "It will be another experience to go back there and see what it's like. It's nice to be able to do these things and raise awareness for these causes. I feel like it's something that has been pretty close to me since I've been there."