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Rory McIlroy emotional after winning CJ Cup, regaining world No. 1

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RIDGELAND, South Carolina. Rory McIlroy ended his relentless march back to world No. 1 on Sunday with an explosive three-birdie blast at the end of the round to pin Kurt Kitayama to win the CJ Cup in South Carolina.

Tied with Kitayama five holes to Kongari, McIlroy ran three birdies in a row to take control and ended up with two scarecrows, barely enough to ruin the moment. He closed out 4 to 67 for a one-shot victory.

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

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Full field score at the CJ Cup in South Carolina

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It was his ninth time he reached world No. 1, second only to Tiger Woods and Greg Norman (both 11) in being the most frequently climbed to the top of the rankings.

It was no less special, and it showed when McIlroy’s voice was slightly choked with emotion after he won.

“I’ve been working so hard for the past 12 months to get back here,” McIlroy said. “I feel like I’m enjoying the game as much as ever. I’ve played with that joy and it’s definitely shown itself over the past few months.

“This is a big achievement. Now I’m really proud of myself.”

It felt like a long time.

He won the CJ Cup for the second time in a row. The South Korean tournament was held in Las Vegas last year when McIlroy was world number 14. Thus began his rise to No. 1 with victories at the Canadian Open and the Tour to win the FedEx Cup, and with the help of Scotty Sheffler cooled down from his torrid spell at the Masters.

Rory McIlroy battles emotions as he regains world number one

Rory McIlroy battles emotions as he regains world number one

McIlroy was No. 1 when golf closed for three months due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he made way for John Ram when the Spaniard won the Memorial in mid-July 2020.

Scheffler finished in the middle of the group at Congaree, meaning that McIlroy could have taken second place and still reclaim the top spot in the rankings. He wanted a trophy and it turned out to be harder than he imagined.

Going into the final round, McIlroy was put on a one-shot lead and never fell behind, although he struggled until he got to the 18th green.

Ram, who won the Spanish Open, had drawn three times before playing in the group ahead of him. Rum was still confused until his tee throw on a long par-3 14 caught a pocketed lie in the face of the bunker, leading to dismay.

As a result, he scored 69 points and finished fourth.

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While it was a disappointing finish at Kongari for John Ram, it was better than he initially thought he would do on Thursday.

The real threat was Kitaema, who won three times in Asia and Europe. The 29-year-old Californian overcame an early two-shot backlog and led until McIlroy took over with a 15-foot birdie on the 14th.

At 348-yard 15th Street, Kitayama drove down the green to 45 feet and McIlroy ended up in a bunker. McIlroy pulled out 5 feet and converted a birdie, while Kitayama ran his shot 6 feet past the cup and missed it, coming back to settle for par.

McIlroy effectively closed it with a 20-foot birdie on the 16th, although there was a nervous moment at the end. With a two-shot lead on the last hole, McIlroy threw his long birdie about 8 feet and Kitaema had just over 20 feet for the birdie.

They both missed, and McIlroy smiled with satisfaction and relief.

Kitaema played without ghosts and closed with a score of 67, finishing third since joining the PGA Tour last year, behind McIlroy, Xander Schaufela in Scotland and Rahm in Mexico. He earned $1,134,000.

“It’s a tough bunch of guys who can’t be beaten,” Kitaema said. “I just need to keep improving.”

K.H. Lee had 68 points and finished third, with Ram and Tommy Fleetwood (65) still one shot behind.


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