Many eyebrows were raised last week when Rory McIlroy won the prestigious PGA Tour Player of the Year award ahead of Brooks Koepka.
The award is voted on by PGA Tour players who appeared to reward McIlroy’s consistency over the whole season ahead of Koepka’s standout performances at the majors.
A week earlier Koepka won the slightly lesser award of PGA of America Player of the Year, and was then expected to win the award that went to the Northern Irishman.
McIlroy himself made the same prediction last month: “He’s had a great season. He’s won another major, he’s won three times. And I know it’s going to sting because he most likely will win the Player of the Year,” he said.
McIlroy finished the PGA Tour season with the best stroke average of 69.05, with Koepka fourth on 69.40. Patrick Cantlay (69.31) and Webb Simpson (69.38) occupied second and third spots. McIlroy also had 14 top 10s in 19 starts, compared to Koepka’s nine in 21 starts.
Both players won three tournaments this season. McIlroy won the RBC Canadian Open, and golf’s two biggest tournaments outside the majors: The Players Championship and the season-ending Tour Championship, securing him the FedEx Cup title. Koepka won The CJ Cup, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and one major, the PGA Championship.
Instead of players’ votes, the PGA of America Player of the Year award won by Koepka uses a points system that rewards victories, scoring average and position on the season-long money list. Koepka topped that list with $9.7m, ahead of McIlroy on $7.8m. The list concludes for the year before the Tour Championship is played, which McIlroy won along with $15m.
Careers though are mostly defined by major victories, and Koepka won his fourth at the PGA in May. That PGA title defence, following consecutive US Open wins in 2017 and 2018, made him the first golfer in history to hold two major titles back-to-back simultaneously.
That victory also moved him to No.1 in the world ranking, a spot that he continues to hold. He started the season third in the world, while McIlroy went from sixth to second.
Koepka also added runner-up finishes at the Masters and US Open, along with a T-4 at The Open joining Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Jordan Spieth as the only players to finish top four or better at every major in a calendar year.
McIlroy had two top-10s in the majors, missed the cut at The Open in his home country and finished 21st at The Masters, the title he craves most.
The debate surrounding McIlroy’s PGA Tour Player of the Year award sets up a great rivalry between the world’s two best players going into next season.
McIlroy had succumbed to Koepka while playing alongside him on the final day of the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in July after going into the final day four shots ahead. They were once again paired together on the final day of the Tour Championship a month later. This time McIlroy won ahead of Koepka in third, and it felt important for him to have gone toe-to-toe with the American and come out victorious.
After that win, McIlroy was told by a TV interviewer that Koepka said he feels he can dominate the sport next season. “Well, he’ll have to go through me first,” came the reply.