RIDGELAND, S.C. — 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, and that about made him cry.
The 33-year-old from Northern Ireland earned the top spot in the Official World Golf 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 McIlroy a 4-under-par 67 and a one-shot victory at Congaree Golf Club.
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 for Europe. 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 Sunday, he 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.
"The birdie on 14 was big," said McIlroy, who had a one-shot lead after three rounds.
That was followed by another key moment on the 348-yard 15th hole, where he got up and down for a 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. 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 ranked 14th.
Only Tiger Woods and Greg Norman, at 11 times each, have risen to No. 1 more often than McIlroy, the reigning FedEx Cup champion and a three-time winner on the PGA Tour this calendar year.
"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."
Kitayama's bogey-free 67 secured the 29-year-old Californian's third runner-up finish since joining the PGA Tour last year. South Korea's K.H. Lee (68) was third at 15 under, with England's Tommy Fleetwood (65) and Spain's Jon Rahm (69) another shot behind.
Baylor School graduates Harris English and Keith Mitchell each closed with a 70 and were among those tied for 40th at 2 under, while a third former Red Raiders standout, Luke List (73) shared 58th at 2 over.
Champions: Alker closes strong
RICHMOND, Va. — Steven Alker birdied three straight holes to break out of a late four-way tie for the lead and won the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, the opening event in the PGA Tour Champions' Charles Schwab Cup playoffs.
Alker, a 51-year-old from New Zealand who started the tournament as the points leader in the three-event conclusion to the senior circuit's 2022 schedule, made three straight birdies starting on the 15th and closed out a 4-under 68 to beat South Korea's K.J. Choi (67) by one shot. Alker finished at 14-under 202 in the 54-hole event and earned his fourth win of the season, which is tied with Steve Stricker for the tour lead.
Jerry Kelly, who led after each of the first two rounds on the James River Course at the Country Club of Virginia, had the lead until the par-4 15th hole, when his birdie try stopped on the edge of the cup. He wound up shooting a 72 and shared third with Doug Barron (69) and Ireland's Padraig Harrington (72) at 12 under.
"It was a kind of a dogfight down there at the end," Alker said. "... I was trying not to look at the leaderboard because there's so many guys just trying to win this golf tournament."
LPGA: Special win for Lydia Ko
WONJU, South Korea — Lydia Ko won her 18th LPGA Tour title in the country of her birth, closing with a 7-under 65 in the BMW Ladies Championship.
The 25-year-old Ko finished the 72-hole event at Oak Valley Country Club at 21-under 267, four strokes ahead of American player Andrea Lee (69). Ko had birdies in two of her first five holes Sunday before dropping a stroke on No. 7, but she made birdies on three of the next four holes and had a run of three straight starting on the 15th.
"Every time I come back to Korea, even though I play under the New Zealand flag, so many people support me ... I think that is such a boost," said Ko, whose family moved when she was 4, not long before she picked up the game.
There was a three-way tie for third at 16 under between American player Lilia Vu (69) and South Korea's Hye-Jin Choi (68) and Hyo Joo Kim (68).
DP World: Paul recovers late
PALMA, Spain — Yannik Paul converted a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a one-stroke win in the Mallorca Golf Open, the 28-year-old German's first DP World Tour victory in his 26th start on the European circuit.
Paul overcame a two-shot deficit with three holes to play at Son Muntaner Golf Club, finishing off a final round of 1-over 72 in which he totaled four bogeys — including on Nos. 14-15 to lose the lead — and three birdies. He finished the 72-hole event at 15-under 269, with England's Paul Waring (66) and Germany's Nicolai von Dellingshausen (69) tied for second.
"I'm just so happy," Paul said. "It was really hard today. My ball striking was unbelievable all week. I hit it really close at the first couple of holes and couldn't make any putts. So that was really hard to just stay in the moment. But luckily none of the other guys really made a lot of putts."
England's Marcus Armitage had a two-shot lead with three holes left but finished bogey, double-bogey, bogey for a 73 and tied for fifth at 12 under, one shot behind countryman Dale Whitnell (72) and New Zealand's Ryan Fox (74).