​McIlroy returns to number one, Kim continues to shine – October's PGA Tour stats

Getty Images

Rory McIlroy could not have scripted a better start to his latest PGA Tour season.

The Northern Irishman, making his 2022-23 debut at the CJ Cup in South Carolina, carded four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to claim his third win of the calendar year. The victory moved him back to number one in the world for the ninth time in his career, but the first time since July 2020.

"I've worked so hard over the last 12 months to get myself back to this place," he said afterward. "I feel like I'm enjoying the game as much as I ever have. I absolutely love the game of golf and I think that when I go out there and I play with that joy, it's definitely showed over these last 12 months. Yeah, it feels awesome."

The 33-year-old, who captured the Tour Championship in August, became the first FedExCup champion to open his season with a win since Tiger Woods did it at the 2007 Buick Invitational. He also became the fifth player since 1983 to successfully defend a title on a different course and joined Woods as the only player in Tour history to do it multiple times (McIlroy won the 2019 and 2022 RBC Canadian Opens at two different locations, while the CJ Cup moved this year to Congaree Golf Club from The Summit Club in Las Vegas).

As always, McIlroy used his prodigious skill set with the driver to power his way to victory. He averaged 323 yards off the tee at Congaree, marking the fourth-longest average by a winner in the ShotLink era. It was the 31st time of McIlroy's storied career where he has led the field in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, the most of any player since 2020.

Tom Kim chugs along

Tom Kim shocked the golf world when he burst on the scene at the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship in August, when the youthful Korean came out of nowhere to shoot a final-round 61 and claim the regular-season finale.

The Korean would not be surprising anyone this year, though, especially after his breakout performance at the Presidents Cup. And yet there he was just a few weeks later, surprising everyone once again as he held up another trophy, this time at the Shriners Children's Open.

At 20 years, three months and 18 days old, Kim became the second-youngest player to win two PGA Tour events on the all-time list, behind only Ralph Guldahl, who won his second event in 1932 at 20 years, two months and 10 days.

Now trailing Kim on that list as a who's who of world-class players and Hall of Famers – Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith, Tom Creavy, John McDermott and some guy named Tiger Woods (he won his second event at 20 years, nine months and 20 days).

"Golf on the PGA Tour is really hard. It's really hard to win tournaments," said Kim, who also became the fastest Korean to multiple wins, taking just 18 starts. "You can't expect everything in life. I've just got to keep working hard on my game. I'm very fortunate to win twice on Tour and to be even out here. I think the mindset is for me I've just got to keep working hard and be grateful for what things come along."

Kim certainly makes the game look easy, despite what he may suggest. He became the first player since J.T. Poston in 2019 to go bogey-free in a tournament and win and was only the third to do it all-time (Lee Trevino first accomplished the feat in 1974). He hit 87.5 percent of his greens in regulation – the best mark by a Shriners winner since 2008 – and was a perfect 100 per cent in scrambling for the week.

Canadian Hughes nabs second win

But Kim was not the only player in October to card the second win of his PGA Tour career, as Canadian Mackenzie Hughes survived in the first play-off of the season to win the Sanderson Farms Championship.

The 31-year-old poured in an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to outlast Sepp Straka, notching his first victory since winning the RSM Classic six years ago. As the sun set over Mississippi, Hughes had to convert six critical putts over his final seven holes – four of them for par – before ultimately outlasting Straka.

"I kept telling myself the whole week that I was going to do it. That was the only thing I saw in my mind," Hughes said. "Those par saves down the stretch, I was just trying to will the ball into the hole."

It seemed to work. Hughes finished with a 91.67 scrambling percentage, the highest mark of his career and best since winning the aforementioned RSM Classic, where he finished with an 85 scrambling percentage (that was good for second at that event). His +2.31 average in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green was also the second-best average of his career, behind last year's RSM Classic, where he finished second after carding a +3.14 average.

"The second [win] felt harder because I've had to wait a lot longer for it," he said. "The first one came in my fifth tournament as a PGA Tour member. I felt like, 'Oh, man, this is going to be easy, I'm going to be able to rack up a few of these,' and it's been six years since I did that.

"It's been unbelievable. I didn't need the validation, but it's nice to be a two-time winner instead of a one-time winner and help to add to that tally."