Rory McIlroy beat Brooks Koepka in the final round of the 2018-19 PGA Tour season, shooting 66 over the final 18 holes to win a $15 million bonus at the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in August.
After a somewhat surprising vote by PGA Tour members, McIlroy also edged Koepka for PGA Tour Player of the Year honors on Wednesday. It is the third time McIlroy has won the Jack Nicklaus Award.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what I achieved this year,” McIlroy said. “I wanted to try to bring my best every single week that I played, and I feel like I did that to the best of my ability. I think the greatest compliment you can receive is that your peers feel like you’ve done something pretty special. For this award to be voted on by my fellow players, I’m very humbled and very honored. I think it says a lot about what I’ve put into this year and some of the decisions I made starting off the year.”
Sung-jae Im, the only rookie who qualified for the Tour Championship, was voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
PGA Tour members who played at least 15 official FedExCup events during the 2018-19 season were eligible to vote for the awards. Voting ended on Sept. 6.
Last month, Koepka was named PGA of America Player of the Year based on points. It is only the third time player of the year honorees were different: Nick Faldo (PGA) and Wayne Levi (PGA Tour) in 1990 and Corey Pavin (PGA) and Fred Couples (PGA Tour) in 1991 were the other occasions.
“Look, Brooks has had an incredible year, an incredible two or three years, whatever it is,” McIlroy said. “He’s the number one player in the world in the World Golf Ranking. I think this speaks volumes about what PGA Tour players feel is important. I’ve harped on this a little bit over the course of the year: I think players don’t just feel four weeks a year are important, it’s more than that. We play for a lot more. Why do we play 25 times a year when only four weeks are really important?
“I think it’s a huge vote of confidence from the players that we play for more than just what maybe the narrative suggests. I thought maybe Brooks winning the PGA Championship this year was going to be the difference maker, but the other players thought differently.”
McIlroy and Koepka were the only PGA Tour players to win three events this past season. McIlroy won the Players Championship, Canadian Open and Tour Championship. Including his FedEx Cup and Wyndham Reward bonuses, McIlroy won $24.3 million last season, the most in Tour history.
McIlroy also won the Byron Nelson Award for adjusted scoring average (69.057) for the third time in his career and led the PGA Tour in top-10s (14) and strokes gained: total (2.551).
After one start in the fall of 2018, McIlroy opened the 2019 calendar year with top-six finishes in his first five starts before winning the Players Championship. He became only the third player to win The Players, a major championship, the FedExCup and a World Golf Championships event in his career, joining Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson.
But McIlroy wasn’t nearly as good as Koepka in majors. McIlroy finished tied for 21st at the Masters, tied for 8th at the PGA Championship, tied for ninth at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in his native Northern Ireland, after shooting 79 in the first round.
Along with a second straight PGA Championship title, Koepka also won the C.J. Cup and WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He led the Tour money list with nearly $9.7 million.
Koepka was the most consistent player in golf’s biggest events for the second season in a row. He has finished in the top five in the last five majors championships, including all four this past season. He finished tied for second at the Masters in April, won the PGA Championship for the second straight year at Bethpage Black in May, finished solo second at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June and tied for fourth at the Open Championship in July.
Koepka is only the fifth player to finish in the top five in all four majors in one season during the Masters era (since 1934); Jack Nicklaus (1971 and ’73), Woods (2000 and ’05), Rickie Fowler (2014) and Jordan Spieth (2015) were the others.
Kopeka finished in the top 10 in 18 of the last 19 rounds in major championships. He shot in the 60s in 11 of 16 rounds in major championships this season, joining Spieth (2015) for second most in the Masters era. Only Woods (12 in 2000) had more in majors in a single season.
Im, from South Korea, was the top Tour rookie in FedEx Cup points last season and was the only one to advance to East Lake. He had 16 top-25s and seven top-10s in 35 events.