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For Rory McIlroy, the view from the top never gets old

6 Min Read


RIDGELAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 23: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of the CJ Cup at Congaree Golf Club on October 23, 2022 in Ridgeland, South Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

RIDGELAND, SOUTH CAROLINA - OCTOBER 23: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the trophy after winning during the final round of the CJ Cup at Congaree Golf Club on October 23, 2022 in Ridgeland, South Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Returns to world No. 1 with victory at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina

    Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62

    Rory McIlroy’s late birdie burst secures win at THE CJ CUP

    RIDGELAND, S.C. – A decade after first getting to the top of the golf world as a bushy-haired 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy will wake up Monday as world No. 1 again, doing so in style by successfully defending his title at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina.

    RELATED:What's in McIlroy's bag?

    The view is just as good, even on your ninth climb. McIlroy started Sunday with a one-shot lead over three players and kept the pedal down through 16 holes, making seven birdies with some brilliant play at Congaree Golf Club to hold off a trio of players who kept on his heels throughout. Even with two closing bogeys, McIlroy would shoot 4-under 67 to finish at 17-under 267, edging Kurt Kitayama (67) by a shot. K.H. Lee (68) was third. Hard-charging Tommy Fleetwood (65) and Jon Rahm – who briefly led on Sunday – tied for fourth.

    The victory was McIlroy’s 23rd PGA TOUR title, and he supplanted Masters champion Scottie Scheffler atop the rankings, the ninth time he has been No. 1. McIlroy last was there at the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday in 2020, and there was nothing casual about finding himself there again.

    When McIlroy missed the cut at the Valero Texas Open last spring, he felt lost with his game, just as he had last autumn after a poor performance at the Ryder Cup. He had vowed to take more ownership in his game, to stop going down any more “rabbit holes.” Getting all the pieces to fit together again has been an effort that took an entire team.

    “It’s been a wild six months,” McIlroy said. “I figured a few things out with my game, and I've just been on a really good run. Everything sort of feels like it's came together for me and today was just a continuation of how I felt like I've been playing over these last few months. Now it's all about going forward and trying to just keep this going.”

    There was a time one could tell how Rory McIlroy was performing on the golf course just by viewing his gait. Walking slowly with shoulders slumped, it would not be his best day. Conversely, when everything would be firing, there’d be a visible bounce in his step, as if he were walking on bed springs.

    On those good days, and McIlroy has more than most, he can look like a kid in a rush to be first at the door at the morning bakery. Sunday afternoon in the Carolina Lowcountry, with the sun fading fast and the tallest trees casting long shadows at THE CJ CUP in South Carolina, McIlroy barely was touching turf as he made his way alongside the rugged waste area on the closing hole at Congaree Golf Club.

    The two competitors alongside in the final group, Kitayama and Lee, were more than 100 yards behind him when he got to the green. It was a tad symbolic. An in-form version of McIlroy, which was on full display on Sunday, can produce that sort of separation.

    McIlroy, now 33 with some gray sprinkled in his temples, pulled away along a key stretch of holes on Congaree’s back nine (which he played in 10-under for the week). At the 227-yard 14th hole, which contender Jon Rahm had just bogeyed (plugged bunker lie) up ahead, McIlroy flushed a 5-iron that settled under the hole, and he ran in the 14-footer for birdie, one of only five birdies the hole would yield.


    EndWeeks at No. 1Total weeks at No. 1
    March 4, 2012
    March 18, 20122
    April 15, 2012
    April 29, 20122
    May 6, 2012
    May 27, 20123
    Aug. 12, 2012
    March 24, 201332
    Aug. 2, 2014
    Aug. 16, 201554
    Aug. 30, 2015
    Sept. 6, 20151
    Sept. 13, 2015Sept. 20, 2015195
    Feb. 9, 2020July 19, 202011106
    Oct. 23, 20221107

    At the 348-yard 15th, Kitayama drove the green and McIlroy leaked his drive into a waste area right of the green. But Kitayama three-putted for par from 43 feet, and McIlroy made birdie with a deft up-and-down from the sand. When he clipped a little sand wedge from 58 yards beneath tree limbs to 22 feet at 16 – a nifty little play – and rolled in yet another birdie putt, the others essentially were left to play for second.

    “Yeah, I mean, when he gets that putter going, he's tough to beat, and that's kind of what happened,” said Kitayama, a second-year TOUR member who was a runner-up for the third time since April. “He made those three putts, that was the difference.”

    McIlroy became the first reigning FedExCup champion to win in his season debut since Tiger Woods (Farmers Insurance Open) in 2008. THE CJ CUP also marked McIlroy’s third victory of 2022, and on each occasion, he went out on a Sunday and seized control. He shot 62 in winning his second consecutive RBC Canadian Open, and closed in 66 to edge Scheffler at the TOUR Championship.

    “I think that's been the most satisfying thing,” he said. “I've put myself in position all those three times and went out there and got the job done and did what I needed to. They're great strides and great steps in the right direction.”

    Kitayama, meanwhile, who like McIlroy packs lots of power into a smallish frame (he is 5-foot-7), doesn’t mess around with lightweights on those occasions that he battles his way into contention. At the Mexico Open at Vidanta in late April, he ran second to Rahm; at the Genesis Scottish Open this past summer, Xander Schauffele edged him by a shot; and Sunday he went toe-to-toe with McIlroy, not giving an inch.

    The 18th hole hardly was a breeze for McIlroy. Leading by two, he knocked his second shot on but was 40 feet short of the hole. His first putt zoomed 8 feet past. Kitayama had a 25-foot right-to-left slider for birdie to make things very interesting, but his putt rolled past the left edge. McIlroy had two putts to win and used them. He admitted later that Kitayama was not easy to shake.

    “Basically, every time he’s in contention he is right there until the end,” said Kitayama’s caddie Bryan Martin, who has been on the bag for three years. “When he’s been there, he has stayed in it until the very last hole. I think it’s just a matter of time for him. Nothing but positives to take from a day like this.”

    Same for McIlroy. Nothing but positives. The first player to greet him at scoring was 20-year-old Tom Kim, who gave him a big hug. McIlroy was that young buck once. His newest trophy in front of him, and his return to No. 1 secured, he thanked a list of folks that would rival an Oscar winner. Wife, daughter, parents, caddie, agent, trainer, coach, putting coach ... the list went on.

    “It's a team effort, and I think whenever I think about that, that's what gets me a little bit choked up and emotional,” he said, “because it's really cool to be on this journey with other people that you want to be on the journey with.

    “That's a really cool part of it.”

    As is being on top of the golf universe. Again.

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