McIlroy 'proud' to return to No 1 as CJ Cup title defence completes remarkable turnaround

Northern Irishman claimed a one-shot victory over Kurt Kitayama at Congaree Golf Club

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates with the trophy after winning the CJ Cup at Congaree Golf Club. Getty
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Rory McIlroy said he was "proud" to return to the top of golf's world rankings but also a little surprised by how quickly he achieved it after his successful title defence at the CJ Cup on Sunday.

Despite posting back-to-back birdies at the end of his final round, McIlroy shot a four-under 67 for a tournament total 17-under to claim a one-shot victory over Kurt Kitayama at Congaree Golf Club.

In registering his 23rd PGA Tour title, the 33-year-old Northern Irishman returned to world No 1 for the ninth time in his career, replacing Scottie Scheffler at the summit.

It continues a superb year for McIlroy, who won the RBC Canadian Open win June and the FedEx Cup title for a third time in August. He also finished in the top eight at all four majors, including a runner-up at the Masters and third place at the Open.

"If someone had told me on the Friday night of the Valero Texas Open [in April] when I missed the cut that I would be world No 1 by October, I would not have believed them," McIlroy said.

"It's just been a wild six months. 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 come 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.

"It's amazing. It's a lot to process right now just with everything, but really proud of myself with how I handled this week knowing what was at stake and really just how I've played over these last few months."

McIlroy's return to the top marks a significant turnaround since last year's Ryder Cup, where he went pointless on the first day and was dropped for the second day's first session - the first time he sat out a session in his career. He rallied to win his singles match against Xander Schauffele and gave an emotional interview following Team Europe's heavy defeat to the United States.

It was McIlroy's victory at the CJ Cup last year that essentially kickstarted his stunning run of form which culminated in his return to the top of the rankings.

"This tournament last year was the start of me trying to build myself back up to this point," said McIlroy, who was ranked No 14 when he won the 2021 CJ Cup. "I had a really rough Ryder Cup, I've talked about that at length. I think I was outside the top-10 in the world and it's not a position that I'm used to being in.

"I think just the steady climb back up to the summit of world golf and what it takes, it's not just me, it's everyone that's a part of my team. It's not a solo effort.

"Just thinking over that last 12 months, there's a lot of people that deserve a lot of the plaudits and I'm the one that sits up here and takes them, but there's a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes that people don't know about.

"All of that stuff combined is just as important as what I do out there trying to get these wins. 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 because it's really cool to be on this journey with other people that you want to be on the journey with."

McIlroy will next be in action in Dubai when he competes at the DP World Tour Championship from November 17-20.

Updated: October 24, 2022, 10:31 AM
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