Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Golf [Print without images]

Sunday, March 4, 2012
Updated: March 8, 7:54 PM ET
Rory McIlroy takes No. 1 spot

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Only 22 years old but with a major championship on his resume and a healthy bit of professional experience, Rory McIlroy has long figured to get to No. 1 in golf's official world rankings.

That eventuality became reality when the reigning U.S. Open champion captured the weather-delayed Honda Classic at PGA National on Sunday.

McIlroy staved off a charge from Tiger Woods, who shot a 62 Sunday, and Tom Gillis, both of whom finished two strokes back.

"It was always a dream of mine to become the world No. 1 and the best player in the world or whatever you want to call it," McIlroy said Sunday. "But I didn't know what I would be able to get here this quickly. ... Hopefully, I can hold onto it for a little longer."

A week ago, McIlroy could have gone to No. 1 had he defeated Hunter Mahan in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. But McIlroy fell 2 and 1 and needed a victory Sunday to move ahead of Luke Donald and give Northern Ireland its first top-ranked golfer.

McIlroy, who turned pro in 2007, moves ahead of the Englishman who held the top spot for nine months or a span of 40 consecutive weeks. Donald is off to a slow start this year after winning money titles on both the PGA and European tours in 2011. He was eliminated in the first round of the WGC-Match Play and did not play at the Honda Classic.

Last week, either McIlroy or Lee Westwood could have gone to No. 1 with a victory at the Match Play, which heightened the interest in the semifinal match won by McIlroy.

After coming close there, the opportunity was again presented at the Honda, where McIlroy had to win and took a 2-shot lead over Harris English and Gillis into the final round. McIlroy has now finished in the top five in 10 of his past 11 tournaments.

"I feel a little more motivated, and that's probably the reason," McIlroy said of his extended run of good play which dates to last year's PGA Championship, where he suffered a wrist injury. "I'm basically just playing golf and it seems like every time I go out there, I play the way I want to and it's a great feeling. Hopefully I can keep it going for a while."

The victory is McIlroy's fifth official worldwide win as a pro, to go with titles on the European Tour in Dubai and Hong Kong, a victory at Quail Hollow on the PGA Tour in 2010 and his 2011 U.S. Open victory at Congressional. Honda is his third PGA Tour title to go along with Quail Hollow and the U.S. Open.

McIlroy becomes the 16th player to hold the No. 1 ranking dating to its inception in 1986. Since Woods relinquished the top spot in late 2010, it has been held by Westwood, Donald and Germany's Martin Kaymer.

But McIlroy's No. 1 spot is not secure. Each of the top 50 golfers in the world will convene this week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.

Bob Harig is a senior golf writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.