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Rory McIlroy ready to re-assert he’s No. 1 as 2023 WM Phoenix Open looms

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Rory McIlroy’s reign as World No. 1 began in October when he won the CJ Cup in South Carolina.

He’s continued his winning ways on the DP World Tour, most recently at the Dubai Desert Classic in late January. But with a run of four wins in his last seven worldwide starts, No. 3-ranked Jon Rahm is hot on McIlroy’s heels and boldly declared that numbers lie and he’s playing the best in the world. Then there’s No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, the player McIlroy supplanted for the top spot and the defending champion at this week’s WM Phoenix Open, who also can reclaim the title of best player on the planet should he repeat.

It begs the question: who is really No. 1?

McIlroy, for one, was asked if he feels as if he’s the biggest man on campus this week in a field with eight of the top 10 in the world. His answer was short and sweet and unmistakable: “Yes,” he said and smiled.

“Because I do. I’m playing well. I feel like consistency-wise, I’ve been as good as I have been ever in my career,” he added. “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.”

Scheffler conceded that McIlroy and Rahm have eclipsed him, no matter what the rankings say.

“Right now I’m ranked No. 2, but I would say I’m not playing the second best golf in the world; I think Rory and Jon are pretty much neck-and-neck for playing the best golf in the world right now, so the rankings are funny. It’s just an algorithm,” Scheffler said. “[But] I don’t like being No. 2. I’d rather be No. 1.”

McIlroy, a four-time major winner and the FedEx Cup champion in August, went so far as tab himself as complete of a player as he’s ever been.

“If you just look at my statistical categories, there’s no real glaring weaknesses there. I’ve worked really hard on that, to try to become a more well-rounded player,” he said. “I think the results speak for themselves, as well, over not just the past six months but really the past 18 months post-Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, I feel like I’ve been on a really good run of form since then.”

Rory McIlroy greets former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald ahead of the Annexus Pro-Am for the 2023 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports)

McIlroy has won the last two times he’s teed it up on the Tour – at the Tour Championship in August and CJ Cup in October – and is bidding to become the first player to win three consecutive starts since Dustin Johnson in 2016-17, a feat McIlroy previously accomplished during the 2013-14 season. He is competing at TPC Scottsdale for just the second time in his career, finishing T-13 in 2021 during COVID-19 and when the crowds were limited to 5,000 people per day. There will be considerably more fans this go-round, with typically more than 200,000 people attending on Saturday alone.

“I haven’t had the full experience of this event yet,” McIlroy said. “I’m looking forward to it this week in some ways, but it’s going to be an experience.”

The WM Phoenix Open is the first full-field designated event – with 134 contestants scheduled to tee off Thursday – a new wrinkle that debuted this year designed to bring the top players together more frequently. It should present several opportunities in the run up to the Masters to determine inside the ropes who really is No. 1.

“I think when we started talking about trying to elevate or designate some events, I think this was one of the first ones on the list, just because it’s such a fan favorite, and players like it, players love the atmosphere,” McIlroy said. “It was already a huge event but made even bigger.”