Rory McIlroy one off early lead in CJ Cup title defence as he closes on world No 1 return
McIlroy can return to world No 1 for the first time since 2020 with a top-two finish this week, depending on Scottie Scheffler's result; Gary Woodland and Trey Mullinax hold early lead; Watch the PGA Tour live on Friday from 8pm on Sky Sports Golf
By Ali Stafford
Last Updated: 21/10/22 9:22am
Rory McIlroy made a bogey-free start to his CJ Cup title defence to get within a shot of the early lead in South Carolina.
McIlroy, who could return to world No 1 this week depending on his and Scottie Scheffler's results, fired five birdies on his way to an opening-round 67 at Congaree Golf Club.
The Northern Irishman followed three straight birdies from the fourth by taking advantage of the par-five 12th and two-putting the driveable par-four 15th hole, lifting him to tied-third on five under and in touch with early pacesetters Gary Woodland and Trey Mullinax.
"I drove the ball well today," McIlroy said. "I took advantage of the par-fives, the drivable par-four on the back nine there, 15. Yeah, if I can keep driving it like that over the next few days, I'll be in a good spot."
Mullinax set the clubhouse target when he birdied seven of his first 12 holes on his way to a six-under 66, with his only bogey coming when he missed from five feet at the par-three 14th, only for Woodland to birdie his final two holes and grab a share of the early lead.
"Playing from the fairway out here is a huge advantage and I was able to attack a little bit from there as well," Woodland said. "All in all, I had all three aspects of driving, ball-striking, putting going on and it was a good day."
McIlroy's playing partner Tom Kim, who claimed his second PGA Tour title at the Shriners Children's Open earlier this month, also held a share of the lead until a final-hole bogey dropped him back to five under.
Cam Davis recovered from an opening-hole birdie to also get within one of the lead, while American trio Wyndham Clark, Kurt Kitayama and Aaron Wise all mixed seven birdies with two bogeys to complete the group tied-third.
England's Tyrrell Hatton is two off the pace and in a group containing Ryder Cup team-mate Viktor Hovland and Ireland's Seamus Power, while Shane Lowry made a bogey-free start to join Justin Thomas at three under.
Jon Rahm birdied three of his last five holes to salvage a two-under 70 and US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is another shot back, as Scheffler - in danger of losing his world No 1 status - opener with a level-par 72.
Watch The CJ Cup throughout the week live on Sky Sports. Live coverage continues on Friday from 8pm on Sky Sports Golf.
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