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Rory McIlroy returns to world No. 1 after successfully defending his CJ Cup title in South Carolina

Released: 7:28 PM EDT, Oct. 23, 2022 | Updated: 7:50 p.m. EDT, Oct. 23, 2022

More than two years after he last topped the world rankings, Rory McIlroy is back at No. 1 after defending his title at the CJ Cup in South Carolina on Sunday night. In its current form, it takes something special to grab it.

By tossing a star-studded field at Congaree, he clinched his third PGA Tour win in four months, making official what’s been apparent for some time, that nobody is currently playing at his level.

If there was any legitimate counterargument in 2022, it was found in his ability to close on a Sunday, not least in the majors, but there was little hint of fallibility in his first PGA Tour appearance since winning the Tour championship . He started his final round with a clear lead by a shot and finished by the same margin at 17 under par after adding a 67 to his earlier rounds of 66, 67 and 67.

Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy after winning the final round of the CJ Cup

Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy after winning the final round of the CJ Cup

“It feels great to go out in front, play really well and get the win,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the new season and it’s a continuation of the way I’ve played so far.

‘That means a lot. I’ve worked a lot to get back to this place and I’m enjoying the game like never before. The joy has shown itself in these last 12 months. It feels great (being back at #1). It’s a great achievement and I’m really proud of myself.”

Although McIlroy opened his fourth round with birdies at two, four and six, he faced some serious challenges on his way to the line.

First that came from Jon Rahm, who was level under McIlroy at 15 when the Northern Irishman made eight bogeyes, and then his playing partner Kurt Kitayama, who was level with him for most of the round. But the more they turned up the heat, the more McIlroy’s game climbed, especially on the back nine, where four birdies in five of 12 holes opened a three-shot lead over Kitayama.

The win was the 33-year-old's 23rd on the PGA Tour and third of the year

The win was the 33-year-old’s 23rd on the PGA Tour and third of the year

McIlroy briefly wobbled with a bogey at 17 after driving into a bunker, reducing his advantage to two, and then gave away another at last, although one bogey was enough to win. But he had already built up enough cushion to secure his 23rd PGA Tour title.

By passing Scottie Scheffler and returning to the top of the leaderboard, it meant McIlroy has finished first nine times in his career. The question is if the form that has made this recent rise possible will be there when the majors return in 2023 and if he can actually build on the near misses he experienced at those four big stages in 2022.

McIlroy's triumph returned him to world No. 1 for the ninth time in his career

McIlroy’s triumph returned him to world No. 1 for the ninth time in his career

Meanwhile, Tommy Fleetwood shot a brilliant 65 to close with Rahm on 14 below fourth place. Matt Fitzpatrick finished with two bogeys and fell alongside Tyrrell Hatton in 13th with nine under.

Earlier, Marcus Armitage’s dream of a second DP World Tour title was dashed after collapsing on his last three holes at the Mallorca Open.

The Englishman was two shots clear going to the 16th tee but he broke up from there to give German Yannik Paul the win. The first sign of an implosion came when he missed his 3-foot par putt at 16 before then driving the closest wide en route to a double bogey. A final bogey completed his slip from first to sixth place and cost Armitage around £240,000 in prize money. England’s Paul Waring was second, a shot behind Paul

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