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Outside of those two holes, McIlroy quickly pointed out, he was level par. He likely will need a little more firepower on Sunday as he tries to take over No. 1 for the first time since 2020. The first time he rose to No. 1 was a full decade ago, in March 2022 at the Honda Classic. Those were different times, for sure.

“Yeah, there’s an excitement level of doing something for the first time that I think you’re never going to get back again,” McIlroy said. “But again, it’s still something that everyone out here would obviously be very, very proud of.

“It’s been a long journey from when I was No. 1 back in July of 2020. It’s been two years and a bunch of stuff has happened, so I think that … it mightn’t have the excitement that 2012 did, but it will have as much, if not more meaning because of everything that I’ve sort of went through over the last couple years.”

McIlroy said he went down a couple of “rabbit holes” trying to find elixirs to his ailing game. After a poor performance at the Ryder Cup last autumn, he drew a line and vowed to himself as he moved forward, he would do so only with complete ownership of his game. The last six or seven months, since a runner-up showing at the Masters, McIlroy has been in terrific form.

The priority on Sunday will not be to become No. 1 again. That is simply something that will fall nicely into line if he wins the golf tournament, which would be his 23rd on TOUR.

“You know, the ranking will just take care of itself if I do what I want to do,” he said. “Ultimately, I just want to win this golf tournament. If I win the golf tournament, then everything will take care of itself.”

Rahm hopes to have a say in that. He’s had a very up-and-down week in South Carolina. It took a late run of birdies to get him below par in the opening round, and he followed by shooting 9-under 62 on Friday, which is the low round of the week. Saturday, he was going sideways in the middle of the round – he made three bogeys in four holes beginning at the eighth – but showed great fight, gathering himself together to shoot 1-under 71. The round was the very definition of scrappy.

He got back on track when he piped a drive on the 570-yard 12th, hit his second shot green-high, and managed to make birdie. He then added two more coming home, including one on the difficult par-4 17th hole.

“A lot of battle today,” Rahm said. I’m proud of it, very proud of it. I mean, I’m standing on 12th tee, I think I was four back with people looking at par 5s and the tee up on 15, I thought things could get ugly. But I just stayed on my own game and tried to make some birdies coming in and put myself in position for tomorrow.”

Rahm is coming off a couple of great Sundays in Europe, shooting closing 62s at the BMW PGA Championship (finishing second to Shane Lowry) and at his home country’s Spanish Open (win).

“I’m going in confident tomorrow,” Rahm said. “Today was a battle and I’m hoping tomorrow’s a little bit better. It’s going to take a low one as usual. This is the PGA TOUR, somebody will come out hot on Sunday, and I’m hoping that’s me.”

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