Rory McIlroy will move back to world No 1 for the first time since 2020 after completing an impressive title defence at the CJ Cup in South Carolina.
McIlroy carded a brilliant four-under 67 on the final day at Congaree Golf Club, with four birdies in a five-hole stretch on his back nine helping him pull clear of the chasing pack.
The four-time major champion finished on 17 under and a shot clear of playing partner Kurt Kitayama, despite bogeying his final two holes, with KH Lee claiming third spot ahead of Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood.
McIlroy’s third win of the year and 23rd PGA Tour title sees him become the first FedExCup champion to begin his PGA Tour season with a victory since Tiger Woods in 2008, with his latest success also leapfrogging him above Scottie Scheffler at the top of the world rankings.
“It feels great to go out there, go out there with a lead, shoot a great score, play really well and get the win,” McIlroy said. “It’s an awesome way to start the season, I guess, and obviously just a continuation of how I feel like I’ve been playing over the last few months.”
How McIlroy returned to world No 1
McIlroy – starting one ahead – took advantage of both early par-fives but found himself tied for the lead when Rahm, in the group ahead, followed birdies at the second and fourth by rolling in from 10 feet at the par-three next.
The defending champion recovered from narrowly avoiding the water off the fifth tee to scramble a par and moved two clear with a close-range birdie at the sixth, where Rahm made bogey to slip back to 14 under.
McIlroy followed a three-putt bogey at the eighth by missing a 10-foot birdie chance at the ninth, as Kitayama holed from a similar distance to card his third birdie of the round and reach the turn tied for the lead.
Rahm briefly made it a three-way tie at the top with a two-putt birdie at the 12th, only for McIlroy to get up and down from the back of the same green to match Kitayama’s birdie on the par-five and join his playing partner on 16 under.
McIlroy edged back ahead with a birdie at the par-three 14th and got up and down from a greenside bunker to add another at the driveable next, where Kitayama three-putted for par and fell two behind after finding the green off the tee.
Rahm saw his hopes ended with a bogey at the 14th and a run of pars along the closing stretch, while McIlroy moved to the brink of victory when he drained a 20-footer at the 16th to open a three-shot cushion.
McIlroy dropped a shot at the 17th to cut his advantage to two heading to the par-four last, where a three-putt bogey was enough for victory when Kitayama failed to find a birdie that would have extended the contest.
“I’ve worked so hard over the last 12 months to get myself back to this place,” McIlroy added. “I feel like I’m enjoying the game as much as I ever have. I absolutely love the game of golf and I think that when I go out there and I play with that joy, it’s definitely showed over these last 12 months.”
Kitayama’s runner-up finish equalled the best performance of his PGA Tour career so far, while Lee’s blemish-free 68 saw him hold on to third place. Fleetwood registered eight birdies in a six-under 65, with the Englishman sharing fourth with Rahm on 14 under.
McIlroy’s next scheduled worldwide appearance is on the DP World Tour at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, live on Sky Sports from November 17-20, with the 33-year-old currently top of the season-long standings and looking to win the Order of Merit for a fourth time.
The next PGA Tour event is the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, taking place at Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, with coverage live on Thursday from 6pm on Sky Sports Golf.
Source: Sky Sport