By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy may not have added to his collection of major titles during the 2018-19 campaign, but the Northern Irishman did enough to be named the PGA Tour Player of the Year on Wednesday for a third time.
The 30-year-old Northern Irishman, who won three titles during the season including the Players Championship and Tour Championship, beat Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar and Xander Schauffele in a vote by players for the Jack Nicklaus Award.
“I couldn’t be more proud of what I achieved this year,” McIlroy, who had 14 top-10 finishes in his 19 starts, said on a conference call.
“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.”
McIlroy, who won the award in 2012 and 2014, made 17 of 19 cuts while racking up three victories, the final one at the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta where he also claimed the FedExCup for a $15 million payday.
The four-times major champion’s other victory came in his RBC Canadian Open debut, where he set a tournament record and won by seven shots — the largest winning margin of the season.
But when it came to the majors, McIlroy finished tied for 21st at the Masters, tied for eighth at the PGA Championship, tied for ninth at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the British Open in his native Northern Ireland.
McIlroy admitted he was surprised to win the award over Koepka, who last month was named PGA of America Player of the Year and considered the front-runner after finishing in the top-five at each major, including at the PGA Championship where he picked up his fourth major title.
“Players don’t just feel that four weeks a year is important,” said McIlroy. “It’s a huge vote of confidence from the players that we play for more than just maybe what the narrative suggests.
“I thought maybe Brooks wining the PGA Championship this year was going to be the difference maker but the other players thought differently. I am very honoured that they thought enough of my season to give me this award.”
When asked if he would rather have a year like 2019 or 2014 – when he won consecutive majors at the British Open and PGA Championship, sandwiched around his win at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – McIlroy took a few moments before replying.
“Every year is different. I’ve already had a year like 2014, I might have a year like that again,” said McIlroy. “I’m happier with where my game is now. I feel like I’m a better player now than I was in 2014. And that gives me a lot going forward.”
South Korean Im Sung-jae was voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after a campaign in which he had seven top-10 finishes in 35 events and was the only rookie to make the Tour Championship.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)