Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy enters this week’s CJ Cup on the PGA Tour trying to reclaim the world number one ranking and defend his title on a brand new course.
The 33-year-old from Northern Ireland tees off Thursday after a 2021-22 campaign in which he won a record third FedEx Cup playoff crown and finished in the top eight at all four majors, including a runner-up effort at the Masters in his bid to complete a career Grand Slam.
“Feeling pretty good about my game,” McIlroy said. “Two events left and still I feel like I have a little bit to play for.
“I’ve put myself in a nice position to try to get back to number one in the world and trying to finish off the European Tour title too. Still plenty of motivation this time of the year.”
McIlroy will be shooting for success in an event that shifts from Las Vegas to Congaree Golf Club in Ridgeland, South Carolina -- about 100 miles (161km) southeast of Masters course Augusta National.
To overtake Scheffler for the world number one spot, second-ranked McIlroy must win and have Scheffler finish worse than a two-way share of second or finish solo second and have Scheffler finish worse than solo 34th.
“If I get back to number one this week, it’s like my ninth time getting back,” McIlroy said. “It sort of illustrates you can have your runs and you can stay there, but I think the cool part is the journey and the journey getting back there.
“It’s sort of like a heavyweight boxer losing a world title and it’s a journey to get that title back. I feel like that’s the cool part of it and that’s the journey that I’ve sort of been through over the past 12 months.”
McIlroy, who plans three weeks off after the CJ Cup before playing in the European Tour finale at Dubai, last topped the rankings in July 2020 after the PGA’s Covid-19 pandemic comeback.
“It’s a point of pride for all of us out there to be highly ranked and to get to number one in the world at whatever you do is an unbelievable accolade and something that you should be proud of,” McIlroy said.
“I have a chance to do it this week, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve at least given myself a chance again because I was last (there when) we were coming back from the lockdown out of Covid in July 2020 and I feel like my game and my life has changed considerably since then, so it’s nice to have the opportunity again.”
Staying No.1 is hardest
McIlroy, who said he made a “hard reset” to his game a year ago after a poor showing in Europe’s Ryder Cup loss to the United States, says it is much harder to stay on top than to climb to the summit.
“Staying there is harder. You’ve got a bulls-eye on your back, you’ve got to work harder, everyone’s coming after you,” McIlroy said.
“The cool thing about it is you get to number one and it feels great in the moment and the bad thing is you almost got to maybe work harder to stay there.
“When you’re striving towards something, not that it’s easier to get there, but like once you get there, it’s great. But the hard work is actually staying there.”
Scheffler, last season’s PGA Player of the Year, beat McIlroy at the Masters for his first major title but lost to McIlroy for the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship in August.
“I’m very competitive and I was frustrated with how last season ended. I really want to win the FedEx Cup,” Scheffler said. “I was a little bit worn at the end of the year, so it was definitely nice to be able to go home and check out a little bit and get some quality rest.
“I prepared for this one for probably the last couple weeks, so I feel ready to go. I’m not looking too far ahead.”