PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory McIlroy is the PGA Tour player of the year, and even he was a little surprised.
In a vote of the players, who presumably gave as much weight to the whole season as the four biggest weeks, McIlroy won the Jack Nicklaus Award over Brooks Koepka. It was the third time McIlroy won the award, and the first time without having won a major.
“I'm at a loss for words,” McIlroy said Wednesday.
Moments earlier, McIlroy was sitting down with Nicklaus at The Bear's Club in South Florida to receive the Byron Nelson Trophy for having the lowest adjusted scoring average when a bronze of the Nicklaus Award was placed on the table. McIlroy looked at it and said, “I've already got two of those,” he said.
“Well, you've got three now,” Nicklaus told him.
McIlroy won three times, including The Players Championship and the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and its $15 million prize. He also had a tour-best 14 top 10s and finished out of the top 20 only four times in the 19 tournaments he played.
“I couldn't be more proud to win this award for the third time,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, very ... somewhat surprised, but honored that my fellow players thought enough of my year to award me this honor again.”
Koepka, who won the PGA of America's player of the year based on points, was seen as the favorite for the tour's award.
He won three times, same as McIlroy, led the FedEx Cup in the regular season and won the money title by nearly $2 million over McIlroy. What stood out the most in Koepka's season, however, were the majors. He won the PGA Championship, joining Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners since the PGA switched to stroke play in 1958. Koepka was runner-up at the Masters and the U.S. Open, and he tied for fourth in the British Open, nine shots behind.
Nicklaus (1973), Woods (2005) and Jordan Spieth (2015) are the only other players to have finished in the top four in every major for the year.
Koepka, who beat McIlroy in the final group for a World Golf Championship among his three titles, was thought to be a shoo-in for his second straight Jack Nicklaus Award until the Tour Championship. McIlroy thought he would still have a chance if won the FedEx Cup, and then he posted four rounds in the 60s to win.