Woods returned to the top on Monday for the first time since October 2010 after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third tournament victory of the year.
However, the American will not be playing again until the first major championship of the year, the Masters, which begins in Augusta on April 11.
It gives McIlroy the chance to move back to the top of the pile at the Augusta-like Redstone Golf Club, but to do so he must beat a strong field which includes last year’s winner Hunter Mahan, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley.
If, however, McIlroy does not win in Houston, he looks set to carry a relatively lower profile going into the Masters, but that is something he admits he would relish as he looks to find his form after a difficult start to 2013.
“I didn’t think I could go into the Masters under the radar. I can go in a little bit underneath him (Woods). So, in a way, it’s not a bad thing,” McIlroy said.