Rory McIlroy returns to number 1 in the world thanks to the victory of the CJ Cup

Rory McIlroy – GETTY IMAGES

Rory McIlroy, number 1 in the world. Certainly not hard to believe, but still such an impressive feat by the Northern Irishman to reclaim that coat for the first time in more than two years and after dropping out of the top 15 just over 12 months ago.

The one-shot victory at the CJ Cup on Sunday night was the Northern Irishman’s third win in 2022 and saw him overtake American Scottie Scheffler to the top of the world rankings.

Maintaining the lead overnight in South Carolina, McIlroy emphatically reminded everyone that he has the resilience to go with the outrageous talent to fend off world number 5 Jon Rahm, as well as Kurt Kitayama, KH Lee and the English Tommy Fleetwood.

The fact that McIlroy completed this ascent for his ninth stint at the top without the help of a major title during this period only underscores his bewildering consistency. Not to mention that there has been an absence of silverware – this was the second time he has kept a trophy in 2022 – in a renaissance that has also seen him become the boy symbol of the opposition in Tours’ traditional fight against the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Series.

McIlroy was clearly thrilled as he clutched his trophy, his £ 1.65 million check and, of course, the title of the best in the game. “That means a lot,” said McIlroy, after his 67 for a total of 17 unders and a one-shot win over Kitayama. “I’ve worked so hard for the past 12 months to get back to this place. I am enjoying the game more than ever. When I go out and play with that joy, it has been proven over the past 12 months. I feel very good about it ”.

The kind of smile that is evoked when a victory in a tournament brings them back to number 1 in the world, as in the case of McIlroy - GETTY IMAGES

The kind of smile that is evoked when a victory in a tournament brings them back to number 1 in the world, as in the case of McIlroy – GETTY IMAGES

McIlroy has every right to feel proud of having ousted Masters champion Scheffler, as this tournament, which boasts 15 of the top 20 world championships, was no ordinary end-of-season cash grab. He quickly started the final round, birding three of the top six at Congaree Golf Club, but a three putt on the eighth gave hope to the closing group. And the 33-year-old was captured by both Rahm and Kitiyama as he approached the final stretch.

Yet McIlroy, defying all those critics who insisted he doesn’t have the means to fight, conjured a birdie on par five 12 with an up and down fine, pocketed a 15 foot two for a par three 14, and shown his magic touch from a garbage bunker on the 15th when he came out from 25 yards within a few feet.

The 22 foot for a third birdie in a row on the 16 brought him three goals and although there was a sloppy bogey at the 17, which focused his mind for the final, he ultimately had three putts for the last. “I built that pillow out of that 12th set of birds, but I needed that pillow in the last two holes,” he said. “This is just a continuation of how I feel like I’ve been playing for the past few months.”

McIlroy was number 1 before the curtain fell on the pandemic in March 2020. Resuming three months later, McIlroy, who had recorded four top five in his four tournaments until suspension, failed to record another top five until his last event. that year – the Masters, that November. The bewildering mediocrity continued into the following year.

Despite winning in Charlotte in May 2021, he had dropped to 16th in the standings by August last year. Then McIlroy won the CJ Cup – in a different venue – and the comeback started. This was McIlroy’s eleventh top five in 21 starts, his fourteenth top 10, and in his last five tournaments alone he has collected two triumphs, a second and two fourth places.

Sure, his majorless streak has expanded to eight years, but his Big Four record in 2022 is 2-5-8-3. The last of these was at the July Open and was clearly devastated by that close call to St Andrews. However, his reaction to that golf heartbreak was nothing short of exciting and certainly highlights why he needs to be seen closer than ever to the end of this frustrating severe drought.

McIlroy's near disappearance at St Andrew's this summer has left him devastated - REUTERS

McIlroy’s near disappearance at St Andrew’s this summer has left him devastated – REUTERS

Fleetwood also left Palmetto State in high spirits after his 65 best of the day took him to 14 under and a fourth-place draw with Rahm (69). “It was just nice to have a good lap on Sunday,” said Fleetwood, as he celebrated his best finish on US soil since March 2020. “The swing is better, I’m not losing the ball and I started riding better.”

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