The CJ Cup: How has professional golf and Rory McIlroy's fortunes changed since his 2021 success?
A look at how golf and Rory McIlroy's fortunes have changed since his 2021 victory at The CJ Cup - can he register a third PGA Tour win of the year? Watch live on Thursday from 8pm on Sky Sports Golf
Last Updated: 18/10/22 4:21pm
What a difference a year makes.
When the CJ Cup was held last October, Rory McIlroy was languishing outside the world's top 10, Scottie Scheffler had still not won on the PGA Tour and there was minimal chat around any potential breakaway rival circuit disrupting the sport.
Step forward 12 months and two of the last four winners of the CJ Cup - Brooks Koepka and Jason Kokrak - are ineligible to tee it up due to them joining LIV Golf, while Scheffler arrives with his position at the top of the world rankings under threat by a resurgent McIlroy.
This event is where McIlroy claimed his historic 20th PGA Tour title in 2021, defeating two-time major champion Collin Morikawa by a single stroke in Las Vegas, in what had been his first start since featuring in a record-breaking Ryder Cup defeat for Team Europe at Whistling Straits.
McIlroy had been reduced to tears during that Ryder Cup loss, which followed more than a year of inconsistency and swing struggles, but the then world No 14 remained adamant ahead of his appearance at The Summit Club: "When I play my best, I'm the best player in the world."
The Northern Irishman demonstrated flashes of why he has spent 106 weeks to date as world No 1 during that victory, ending the week on 25 under, and admitted on the Sunday evening after his success how that emotional Ryder Cup experience helped him enjoy a winning start to the season.
"I was maybe trying to be someone else to try to get better and I sort of realised that being me is enough and being me, I can do things like this," McIlroy said. "It feels really good, some validation of what I've done the last few weeks and it just keeps me moving forward."
McIlroy's victory lifted him back inside the top 10, having dropped to his lowest world ranking in 12 years just a few months earlier. His trajectory has been on the rise ever since and he is chasing a return to top spot in the men's game for the first time since the Covid-19 summer of 2020.
Although top-13 finishes in the first four worldwide starts of the year were followed by a frustrating week at a weather-affected Players Championship and a missed cut at the Valero Texas Open, McIlroy kickstarted his 2022 with a career-best finish at The Masters.
A bunker hole-out on the final hole capped a superb Sunday 64 and briefly gave him hope of the unlikely win required to complete the career Grand Slam, before Scheffler secured the Green Jacket, with McIlroy's runner-up finish the first of top-eight finishes in all four majors this year.
McIlroy claimed his first title of the year in June with a successful title defence at the RBC Canadian Open, seeing him overtake Greg Norman in the PGA Tour's all-time victory standings the same week the Saudi-backed circuit fronted by the Australian launched in London.
"I had extra motivation of what's going on across the pond," McIlroy said after the win. "The guy that's spearheading that Tour [Greg Norman] has 20 wins on the PGA Tour, I was tied with him, and I wanted to get one ahead of him. And I did. So that was really cool for me."
Several stars soon switched to LIV Golf, including Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, although McIlroy continued to speak out in favour of golf's previous ecosystem and offer unwavering support to the sport's traditional tours.
LIV Golf continued to dominate conversation ahead of The 150th Open at St Andrews, where McIlroy felt he let an opportunity for a first major title since 2014 'slip away' when he failed to turn a share of the 54-hole lead into victory.
McIlroy said he was "beaten by a better player" after having to settle for a third-place finish, losing out to LIV Golf-bound Cameron Smith, only to create PGA Tour history a month later at the Tour Championship to become the first three-time FedExCup winner.
The 33-year-old came into the week seventh in the season-long standings and six strokes behind Scheffler, a four-time winner in 2022, with McIlroy falling further behind and seeing his hopes seemingly over after playing his first two holes in four over.
McIlroy battled to post back-to-back 67s before following a third-round 63 with a closing 66, seeing him overturn a six-stroke deficit on the final day to beat Scheffler by a shot, with the four-time major champion issuing a clear message to the LIV Golf defectors after his win.
"I believe in the game of golf," said in his victory presentation. "I believe in this Tour in particular. I believe in the players on this Tour. It's the greatest place in the world to play golf, bar none, and I've played all over the world."
McIlroy maintained his powerful stance towards LIV Golf members when he played in the BMW PGA Championship, where he admitted it would be "hard to stomach" seeing one of the rival circuit members winning ahead of him finishing tied-second behind Ryder Cup teammate Shane Lowry.
Top-four finishes in his next two starts at the DS Automobiles Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship extended McIlroy's advantage over Matt Fitzpatrick in the DP World Tour rankings, bolstering his hopes of winning the Harry Vardon Trophy for a fourth time.
McIlroy's focus now switches back to the PGA Tour and his first start on American soil since that Tour Championship success, where he has the chance to successfully defend a title for the second time this season.
There's also the added incentive of leapfrogging Scheffler at the top of the world rankings, with a solo second finish or better potentially enough this week enough to end The Masters champions' six-month stint as world No 1.
Congaree Golf Club in South Carolina hosts the strongest field of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season so far, with 15 of the world's top 20 scheduled to tee it up, while it would be little surprise to see McIlroy end the week with a third win of an already impressive 2022.
Watch The CJ Cup throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage begins on Thursday from 8pm on Sky Sports Golf.