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Rory McIlroy is back on top of the world rankings after successfully defending his CJ Cup title. He also matched a feat by Tiger Woods and now has Dustin Johnson in his sights.
The 33-year-old hit seven birdies to finish on 17 under at the Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina, a shot ahead of American Kurt Kitayama, despite bogeying the final two holes. KH Lee finished in third ahead of Jon Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood.
It was his 23rd PGA Tour victory and his third this year, taking him back to the top of the rankings for the ninth time in his career and the first time since 2020. It’s the sixth straight year on Tour for McIlroy with at least one win.
He won the RBC Canadian Open in June and made history at the FedExCup Tour Championship in August, becoming the first player to win it three times – one more than Woods, the only other player to win it twice.
The four-time major winner, who was world No 14 when he won the CJ Cup in 2021, reclaims the top spot from Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, the man he beat to win the FedEx Cup.
McIlroy’s return to world No 1 caps a stellar year where he posted top-eight finishes in all four majors. In his last 21 starts he has three wins and 14 top 10s, and has gone 1-2-4-4-1 in his last five events.
Fighting back the tears on the 18th green, he said: “It means a lot. I’ve worked so hard over the past 12 months to get myself back to this place. I feel like I’m enjoying this game as much as I ever have. I never feel like I’ve figured this game out, I don’t think I ever will figure it out, but every day I wake up trying to get closer.”
He will now begin his 107th week at the top of the rankings. Dustin Johnson held that accolade for 135 weeks, the third most. Greg Norman was number one for 331 weeks, and 15-times major winner Woods for an incredible 683 weeks.
Next up for McIlroy is the DP World Tour season-ending event in Dubai on November 17-20. He currently has a healthy lead over Ryan Fox and Matt Fitzpatrick as he attempts to win his fourth Race To Dubai title.
McIlroy’s CJ Cup title defence sees him become the first reigning FedExCup champion since Woods in 2008 to begin his PGA Tour season with a win. And together with his victory at the Canadian Open, he has successfully defended two titles in the same year, the first man to do so since Woods in 2007.
But he still has a long way to go match the great man. Woods defended two or more titles in the same year six times. In all, he has defended a PGA Tour title an astonishing 23 times.
McIlroy also has 14 DP World Tour titles to go along with his 23 PGA Tour wins. Those numbers by the age of 33 is an incredible career. But to put that into perspective, Woods had 67 PGA Tour wins, including 14 majors, at the same age.
Phil Mickelson never got to be world number one, but he does have six majors, two more than McIlroy who won his last back in 2014.
But when comparing his record to Mickelson’s at the same age, it suggests the best is yet to come for McIlroy. Mickelson at 33 had 21 PGA Tour wins but was yet to win a major or The Players. McIlroy has two more PGA Tour titles, four majors and one Players.
The one yawning gap on McIlroy’s resume is, of course, a win at the Masters, where he finished second in 2022. But, now back at the sport’s summit, he will probably go to Augusta National in 2023 as favourite for the Green Jacket.