Rory McIlroy restored himself as world number one with a win on the 23rd PGA Tour at the CJ Cup in South Carolina.

The 33-year-old defending champion shot a final-day 67 that included seven birdies to see off the challenge of American Kurt Kitayama by one stroke despite bogeying the final two holes.

McIlroy chipped in on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes en route to a 17-under-par finish at Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina to take the tournament by the scruff of the neck and stave off his late wobble.

The four-time major winner, who tops the rankings for the ninth time in his career, said: “It means a lot.

“I’ve worked so hard over the last 12 months to get back to this place. I feel like I’m enjoying the game like never before.

“I really like the game of golf. When I go out there and play with such joy, it definitely shows over the last 12 months.

“It feels great. I’m looking forward to celebrating with my team tonight and over the next couple of weeks as I think this is a great achievement. I’m really proud of myself now and I want to go and enjoy it.”

I never feel like I have the game figured out – I don’t think I ever will – but I wake up every day trying to get closer.

Rory McIlroy

Asked what he particularly likes about his game, McIlroy added: “I think that’s the nicest thing, it’s that I’ve tried to get the best out of myself.

“I never felt like I understood the game – I don’t think I ever will – but every day I wake up trying to get closer.”

The 33-year-old held a 13-under lead over China, 2021 US Open champion John Ram of Spain and South Korea’s KH Lee, who entered the final round after following his opening 66 with a 67.

He started confidently, picking up birdies on the second, fourth and sixth holes, and although he made par on the eighth.

However, when Rahm and Lee slipped away, Kitayama kept him company after he also posted four birdies in the first 12 holes in a flawless round.

McIlroy nervously birdied the 14th to retake the lead and, after seeing playing partner Kitayama race his eagle trying to get 15 past the flag and end up with only par, responded with a three despite ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ of which found sand to continue his lead.

The third birdie in a row American faltering again put the Northern Irishman three shots clear at the 17th, and although he headed to the 18th with another bogey added to his card after a wayward drive, he did so with two shots to spare.

His audacious first shot on the final green made him work, but Kitayama could not capitalize on his top five to finish second, with Lee third at 15 under and England Tommy Fleetwood in a tie for fourth with Ram a shot further.

McIlroy said: “I think the birdie on 14 was a real turning point for me. It’s a really tough par 3 to make two there, I felt like I got at least a stroke and a half on the course.

“Then knowing 15 was a birdie, getting that up and down from the bunker … Sixteen was a little bonus to give myself the cushion I ultimately needed on the last two holes.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s a great feeling to go out with the lead, score a great goal, play really well and win. I think it’s a great way to start the season and obviously a continuation of how I feel I’ve been playing over the last few months.”