Rory McIlroy back on top of the world by winning CJ Cup

Oct 23, 2022, 3:11 AM | Updated: 4:44 pm
Rory McIlroy, left, of Northern Ireland, left, celebrates with his caddie after the final round of ...

Rory McIlroy, left, of Northern Ireland, left, celebrates with his caddie after the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

              Rory McIlroy, left, of Northern Ireland, left, celebrates with his caddie after the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              K.H. Lee, of South Korea, watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Kurt Kitayama hits out of a bunker on the 17th green during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Rory McIlroy, left, of Northern Ireland, walks up the 18th fairway with his caddie during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 16th green during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, holds the winning trophy after the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Jon Rahm, of Spain, hands a club to his caddie after putting on the first green during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Kurt Kitayama watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
            
              Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the CJ Cup golf tournament Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Ridgeland, S.C. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

RIDGELAND, S.C. (AP) — The final steps on Rory McIlroy’s long road back to No. 1 go down on the scorecard as bogeys, which made him laugh. All that mattered Sunday was winning the CJ Cup in South Carolina, and that about made him cry.

McIlroy reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for the ninth time by holding off Kurt Kitayama and enduring a nervous moment at the end with a three-putt bogey that gave him a 4-under 67 and a one-shot victory.

More than the ranking, it was realizing how far he had come with so much support behind the scenes that made his voice slightly choke with emotion.

“This tournament last year was the start of me trying to build myself back up to this point,” McIlroy said. “I had a really rough Ryder Cup. I think I was outside the top 10 in the world — it’s not a position that I’m used to being in.”

McIlroy went 1-3 in a Ryder Cup loss. He was outside the top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks, the longest stretch of his career since first getting to No. 1 a decade ago. For a player of his caliber, that made him feel farther behind than he really was.

“I think just the steady climb back up to the summit of world golf and what it takes,” he said. “And it’s not just me, it’s everyone that’s a part of my team. I just think about everyone that’s made a difference in my life, not over the last 12 months, but ever.”

Inside the ropes, it was vintage McIlroy.

Tied with Kitayama with five holes to go at Congaree, McIlroy ran off three straight birdies to seize control. The pivotal run began with a 5-iron from 227 yards to 15 feet on the par-3 14th, only the fifth birdie on the hole in the final round.

“I think that the birdie on 14 was really … that’s what separated … the birdie on 14 was big,” McIlroy said. That was followed by another key moment on the 348-yard 15th hole, where he got up-and-down for birdie and Kitayama three-putted for par from 40 feet.

McIlroy followed with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 16th.

McIlroy, who finished at 17-under 267, won for the 23rd time on the PGA Tour and 31st time worldwide.

It was his ninth time reaching No. 1 in the world, behind only Tiger Woods and Greg Norman (both 11) in getting to the top of the ranking the most times.

This felt like a long time coming.

He won the CJ Cup for the second straight time. The South Korea-based tournament was held in Las Vegas last year, when McIlroy was No. 14 in the world.

So began his climb back to No. 1, with victories in the Canadian Open and the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup, and with help from Scottie Scheffler cooling from his torrid stretch through the Masters.

“I’ve worked so hard over the last 12 months to get back to this place,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m enjoying the game as much as I ever have. I played with that joy and it’s definitely showed over these last few months.

“It’s a big achievement. I’m really proud of myself right now.”

McIlroy was No. 1 when golf shut down for three months at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he lost the ranking to Jon Rahm when the Spaniard won the Memorial in the middle of July in 2020.

Scheffler finished in the middle of the pack at Congaree, meaning McIlroy could have been runner-up and still reclaimed the No. 1 ranking. He wanted the trophy, and it was harder work than he imagined.

McIlroy was staked to a one-shot lead going into the final round and never trailed, though he didn’t have it easy until he walked toward the 18th green, and even that made him sweat. He had a two-shot lead and gunned his 40-foot putt some 8 feet by, while Kitayama had a 20-footer for birdie. They both missed.

Rahm, coming off a win at the Spanish Open, tied McIlroy on three occasions early while playing in the group in front of him. Rahm was still in the mix until his tee shot on the long par-3 14th caught a plugged lie in the face of the bunker, leading to bogey.

He wound up with 69 to tie for fourth.

The real threat was Kitayama, three times a winner while playing in Asia and Europe. The 29-year-old Californian overcame an early two-shot deficit and was tied for the lead until McIlroy took over with big putts and he couldn’t answer.

Kitayama played bogey-free and closed with a 67 for his third runner-up since joining the PGA Tour last year, behind McIlroy, Xander Schauffele in Scotland and Rahm in Mexico. He made $1,134,000.

“That’s a tough group of guys to beat,” Kitayama said. “I just have to keep improving.”

K.H. Lee had a 68 and finished third, with Rahm and Tommy Fleetwood (65) another shot behind.

McIlroy has three wins this year, closing with a 62 in the Canadian Open to outlast Tony Finau and Justin Thomas, a 66 in the Tour Championship to beat Scheffler, and a 67 at Congaree with two closing bogeys, just enough to celebrate two big moments.

Another trophy and, finally, another trip to the top of golf.

___

More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Jan Blachowicz, right, reacts after knocking out Luke Rockhold during the second round of th...
Associated Press

UFC 282: Suddenly vacant light heavyweight belt at stake

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev have been waiting for their shot at the light heavyweight title, and neither expected it to come Saturday. They were supposed to compete in the co-main event of UFC 282 until champion Jiri Prochazka pulled out last month of his fight with second-ranked Glover Teixeira because […]
2 days ago
FILE - Brittney Griner (15) runs up court during women's basketball gold medal game against Japan a...
Associated Press

Quote Box: Reaction to Brittney Griner’s release from Russia

Reactions after WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed from a Russian prison in a high-profile prisoner exchange. ___ “A strong woman has the strength of 10 men. If you think about all the women that have been advocating for BG for nine months and you add up our strength. This movement brought her home. Yes […]
2 days ago
Perci Ami, left, of Laveen, Ariz., and Patty Talahongva show support for Brittney Griner, Thursday,...
Associated Press

Brittney Griner’s release celebrated by basketball world

Brittney Griner’s loved ones and extended basketball family were ecstatic when news broke Thursday about her release from a Russian prison and that she was on her way back to the United States. It has been nearly 300 days since the WNBA star was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February, when customs officials said […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

Youth hockey doctor faces more sex abuse charges

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. (AP) — A suburban Detroit doctor already jailed on criminal sexual conduct charges connected to his work with youth hockey organizations has been charged in two additional cases. Zvi Levran, 66, is accused of sexually assaulting a 30-year-old man in 2020 in Levran’s Farmington Hills home and a 14-year-old boy in 2018 […]
2 days ago
Associated Press

New Mexico State Police release fatal campus shooting video

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — State Police have released surveillance footage of last month’s fatal shooting on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque that involved a basketball player from a rival school. Rooftop parking lot video released Tuesday by police showed that three people approached New Mexico State University junior forward Mike Peake, […]
2 days ago
Poland's Arkadiusz Milik, left, and France's Youssouf Fofana, right, fight for the ball during the ...
Associated Press

From serving pizzas, Fofona now delivering World Cup crosses

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Youssouf Fofana has gone from serving pizzas to delivering crosses in the World Cup. Dropped in 2015 at age 14 from Clairefontaine, France’s national training center, his future in soccer seemed at an end. So he went to work for a pizzeria. “That was the best way to earn money […]
2 days ago
Rory McIlroy back on top of the world by winning CJ Cup