Rory McIlroy was left fighting back tears of joy at Congaree after successfully defending his CJ Cup in South Carolina title and returning to World No.1 after just over two years.
The 33-year-old reclaimed top spot in the world rankings for the first time since July 2020 after a four-under 67 in his final round earned him a one-shot win over Kurt Kitayama in Ridgeland, securing his 23rd PGA Tour title.
McIlroy had started the day one shot clear of Kitayama but was pegged back by the turn after birdieing three of his first six holes but then three-putting the par-four eighth, with his rival picking up three birdies of his own to tie the lead.
But on the back nine it was all about Rory, the newly-christened World No.1 getting started with a birdie at the par-five 12th before rattling off three in a row at 14, 15 and 16 to pull three shots clear at 19-under.
With Kitayama only picking up one birdie on his back nine, at the 12th, and third-placed K.H. Lee – the other member of the final group – unable to make a move beyond 15-under, it allowed McIlroy to finish with back-to-back bogeys and still walk away the winner.
That’s the Holywood man’s third win of the calendar year, following on from the Canadian Open and Tour Championship, and he was left overwhelmed by his achievement of ending a two-year and three-month wait to return to top of the world rankings.
“It means a lot,” said McIlroy, who was helped by outgoing No.1 Scottie Scheffler finishing tied-45th.
“I’ve worked so hard over the last 12 months to get myself back to this place. I feel like I’m enjoying the game as much as I ever have. I absolutely love the game of golf and when I go out there and play with joy, it definitely showed over the last 12 months.
“It feels awesome. I think it’s a big achievement and I’m really proud of myself right now.”
Shane Lowry had a disappointing finish as four bogeys and three birdies led to a one-over 73, which dropped him to tied-23rd at six-under-par having been in contention heading into the weekend.
Similarly, Seamus Power was on the bubble of contending at the halfway stage, but back-to-back 74s at the weekend dropped him back down to level-par and a share of 49th, with back-to-back double-bogeys doing the damage on Sunday.