Rory McIlroy playing and feeling like the world number one ahead of Phoenix Open

Holywood man returns to PGA Tour after opening the year with DP World Tour win in Dubai

With a succinct one word answer, Rory McIlroy let it be known where he stands. “Technically you’re world number one, do you feel like you’re the best player in the world right now?” he was asked. “Yes,” came the unequivocal response from, well, the world number one.

McIlroy returned to the peak of the world rankings last October and has remained there ever since, his appearance in the WM Phoenix Open however marking his first outing of the year on the PGA Tour during which time Jon Rahm has been making hay in the absence of the Northern Irishman.

Still, it’s not as if McIlroy has been sitting on the coach surfing the television; in fact, his own form has been as impressive as the Spaniard’s or anyone else, with McIlroy’s only appearance so far this year bringing with it a win, in rather spectacular fashion over Patrick Reed in a desert shoot-out, that has him licking his lips at what lies ahead this new campaign.

The Phoenix Open is the best attended golf tournament anywhere – and it’s timing in the same week as Superbowl in the Arizona city – has brought the promise of an even wilder atmosphere in the coming days, along with the fact that it is the first of the PGA Tour’s designated elevated tournaments with a purse of $20 million.


In times past, McIlroy has not made the event a priority. Indeed, his only appearance came in 2021 when there were limited crowds in what was still a Covid-era. “I haven’t had the full experience of this event yet, it’s going to be an experience,” he said.

McIlroy’s re-emergence on the PGA Tour for the first time since October – and let’s remember, he won the Tour Championship and the CJ Cup before switching his end-of-season focus to the DP World Tour – has him targeting another title to add to his CV.

As he put it, “I feel like I’m just in a really good place with my game and really have a lot of continuity in it and a lot of consistency. I’m just basically working on the same things and trying to refine things [as last year]. It’s another opportunity to go out there this week and try to play at my best, and hopefully if I do that, I’ll have another chance to win a big golf tournament.”

And the 33-year-old from Co Down – with 23 PGA Tour wins to his name among 44 titles worldwide – is convinced that the best of his career is yet to come: “You have to be an eternal optimist in this game and I 100 per cent believe I can still [win more]. I’ve won 30 whatever times around the world as a professional,” he said, actually underestimating his win rate, “and there’s no reason that I can’t double that figure going forward. Like, I truly believe that.

“Who knows whenever you’ve peaked or not peaked. I’m guilty of looking back to 2014 [when he won the last of his four Majors] and thinking about how I played then, and are there certain things from that time in my career I’d want to put into my own career at the minute, but when I look at everything and I look at the statistical categories, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been as complete of a player as I am right now.

“The highs were very high back then, but I had some lows, too. But I feel like my base level now is just a little bit higher and a little more consistent.”

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times