Rory McIlroy has a chance to reclaim the world No.1 ranking at this week’s CJ Cup, which would be his ninth stint atop the golf world.
To do so, the Northern Irishman would need one of two scenarios to happen – he wins at Congaree Golf Club while current No.1 Scottie Scheffler finishes worse than a two-way tie for second or he finishes second and have Scheffler finish worse than outright 34th.
Should McIlroy pull it off, his total weeks spent atop the rankings would climb to 107. The four-time Major winner is currently fourth on the list of longest-serving No.1s, within reach of LIV Golf recruit Dustin Johnson (135) in third, but well behind LIV chief executive’s Greg Norman (331) and runaway leader Tiger Woods (683).
Asked if he had a goal for his total by the end of his career, McIlroy said overnight, tongue-in-cheek:
“332… I don’t know if I can, but that’s a number in my head.”
McIlroy was half joking while throwing mild shade at two-time Open Championship winner Norman, who has traded barbs with McIlroy throughout the year. When McIlroy won the Canadian Open this summer, he said his 21st PGA Tour win was “one more than someone else” in a jab at the Australian’s 20 titles. Months later, Norman responded by telling Australian Golf Digest, “I take it as a compliment that [McIlroy] wanted to beat my 20 PGA Tour wins. His next goal should be to win more than 91 tournaments globally or to maintain No.1 in the world for more than 331 weeks.”
At age 33 and playing some of the best golf of his life – including winning the Tour Championship in August for a third FedEx Cup title – McIlroy can enhance his legacy as one of the most dominant No.1s this side of Woods. He’s 30 weeks at No.1 from surpassing Johnson, who will struggle to get world ranking points (aside from the Majors) now that he’s on the LIV series. McIlroy admits he’s a world ranking watcher. He regularly checks the Twitter account Nosferatu (@VC606) as it’s not associated with the OWGR but does provide accurate updates of the rankings on a regular basis.
“He tweets it out pretty much every Sunday night, so you check that,” McIlroy said. “Then you check the OWGR website on Monday morning just to see where you are in terms of points and how close you could get. I don’t keep as much of a close eye on it as I used to, but still it’s a point of pride for all of us out there to be highly ranked. To get to No.1 in the world at whatever you do is an unbelievable accolade and something that you should be proud of.”
McIlroy was proud when he first attained the goal in 2012 when he won the Honda Classic less than a year after breaking through the Major barrier at the US Open. But he remembered that the first refresh of the OWGR website was an anti-climax.
“It had been a goal of mine for maybe six months up until that point,” McIlroy recalls. “I was on a good run and ended up getting there after the Honda. But I remember waking up the next morning and being like, ‘Is this it?’”
McIlroy hasn’t held top spot since February 2020 when he took it from Brooks Koepka shortly after a third-place finish at Torrey Pines that year. The world ranking was frozen for three months during the PGA Tour’s shutdown from COVID-19 with McIlroy at No.1, but he did not get those 12 weeks added to his career total.
Last year, McIlroy hit a relative “low point”. He had dropped to 16th in the world by August, and then had a disappointing 1-3-0 Ryder Cup campaign for Europe at Whistling Straits. He was visibly emotional after his singles victory over Xander Schauffele, which was McIlroy’s only point for Europe that week. He implemented what he called a “hard reset” after Whistling Straits and won the CJ Cup in Las Vegas the following month. It set up his stellar 2022 campaign where he finished no worse than eighth at the majors, including a second at the Masters and a third at the Open at St Andrews having co-led through 54 holes.
“I have a chance to do it [get to No.1] this week,” McIlroy said. “I’m proud of the fact that I’ve at least given myself a chance again. Coming out the lockdown in July 2020, I feel like my game and my life has changed considerably since then, so it’s nice to have the opportunity again.”
(Fun fact, only one golfer has ever held the No.1 ranking for only one week – Tom Lehman, in April 1997, not long after winning the 1996 Open Championship.)