Rory McIlroy reaffirmed himself as world number one with a 23rd PGA Tour victory at the CJ Cup in South Carolina.
The 33-year-old defending champion carded a final matchday 67 that included seven birdies to win American Kurt Kitayama’s challenge with a single shot despite having made the last two holes.
McIlroy picked up shots on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes on the way to a 17-under-par finish at Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina to take the tournament by the scruff of the scruff and insurance against his late swing.
The four-time majors winner, who tops the charts for the ninth time in his career, said: “It means a lot.
“I’ve worked so hard for the past 12 months to get back to this place. I feel like I’m enjoying the game more than ever.
“I love the game of golf. When I go out and play with that joy, it has definitely been shown in the past 12 months.
“Is fantastic. I am looking forward to celebrating with my team tonight and in the next two weeks because I think it is a great result. I’m really proud of myself right now and I want to go enjoy it ”.
Asked what he particularly liked about his game, McIlroy added: “Just the journey of trying to get the best out of myself, I think that’s the satisfying thing.
“I never feel like I understand this game – I don’t think I’ll ever understand it – but every day I wake up trying to get closer.”
The 33-year-old led by a single shot by 2021 US Open champion Kitayama, Spaniard Jon Rahm and South Korean KH Lee with a score of 13 under par who entered the final round after following his opening 66 with 67 in a row .
He started with a confident style, picking up birdies on the second, fourth and sixth holes and, although he missed a shot on the eighth par 4, he regained it on the 12th to move on to 16 under.
However, when Rahm and Lee slipped away, he had Kitayama for company after he also carded four birdies in the first 12 holes in an otherwise flawless round.
McIlroy sank a nerve-wracking birdie putt for a two in the 14th to once again drive to his right and after seeing playmate Kitayama racing his eagle attempt 15 over the flag and ultimately only secure par, he replied with a three despite finding sand to extend his driving.
A third consecutive birdie as the American faltered once again took the Northern Irishman to the 17th tee with three shots clear, and although he headed towards 18th with another bogeyman added to his card after a rebellious drive, he made with two-throw pillow.
His bold first putt on the final green left him with some work to do, but Kitayama was unable to take advantage of his fives as he finished second with Lee taking third place with 15 under and Brit Tommy Fleetwood. tied for the fourth with Rahm one shot even further back.
McIlroy said: “I think the bird of 14 was the real turning point for me. It’s a really hard par three, to make two there, I felt like I had collected at least one and a half shots on the pitch.
“Then knowing that 15 was capable of birdieing, throwing him up and down the bunker … Sixteen was a bit of a bonus to give me a cushion, which I ultimately needed in the last two holes.
“It’s great, it’s great to come out with an advantage, get a great score, play really well and get the win. It’s a fantastic way to start the season, I guess, and obviously just a continuation of how I feel like I’ve been playing for the past few months. “