By Tony Jimenez
(Reuters) - Rory McIlroy has found the missing link in his game and is undoubtedly the world's best golfer, according to his good friend and Ryder Cup partner Graeme McDowell.
U.S. Open champion McIlroy won the Honda Classic in Florida by two strokes on Sunday to overtake fellow Briton Luke Donald at the top of the world rankings and McDowell believes he is there to stay.
"Rory is the best player on the planet right now," the world number 15 told reporters.
"I didn't have a chance to play with Tiger Woods in the early to mid-2000s when he was the man but Rory is the best.
"As soon as he learned how to putt he was going to be a dominating force and you're starting to see that now."
McDowell said the 22-year-old Northern Irishman had made rapid progress in the last couple of seasons.
"Rory has much more belief than he had two years ago," said the 2010 U.S. Open champion. "He did not use to be a standout closer because he didn't have the putting ability.
"There probably used to be a little question mark from inside six feet," added compatriot McDowell. "Now he believes he's a great putter - that was the missing link because the rest of his game is all there.
"The work he did with (coach) Dave Stockton before last year's U.S. Open has made a huge amount of difference."
McIlroy held off a charging Woods on Sunday as the former world number one fired an eight-under 62 to finish in a tie for second place alongside fellow American Tom Gillis.
Another former number one, Lee Westwood, was also in top form as he carded a 63 to take fourth.
"It just shows how hard it is to win tournaments on any tour in the world but especially this tour," said McDowell. "I think this golf season just got a lot more spicy.
"Tiger is back doing the outrageous things only he can do and we have got world-class fields around him now as well. I'm excited to be part of that."
The Northern Irishman was a picture of despair at Augusta last year when he suffered one of the worst final-round collapses in a major.
McIlroy led by four strokes after 54 holes before tumbling out of contention with a sad eight-over 80.
"I am taking three weeks off before the Masters to prepare," he said. "I'll go up to Augusta the week before and play a couple of practice rounds.
"If I can do the exact same thing this year as I did last year for 63 holes I'll be doing okay. Hopefully I can do that again and ... maybe finish it off a little better."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)