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The Season of McIlroy: Winning the PGA TOUR’s Biggest Events, the FedExCup and a Third Jack Nicklaus Award

A consistent Rory McIlroy was in full flight for a full season, winning the PGA TOUR’s two biggest events and the FedExCup en route to being honored with his third Jack Nicklaus Award.

As envisioned in his mind, Rory McIlroy’s competitive blueprint for 2018-19—an early start that included his debut at the famed Kapalua Resort and a schedule anchored in America for large chunks of time—unfolded brilliantly. It was equal parts consistency and symmetry.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what I’ve achieved,” said McIlroy.

If you’re thinking it is a case of beauty belonging in the eye of the beholder, there is also this: Beauty belongs in the hands of the voter, and when that faction was heard from, McIlroy’s pride was validated. His PGA TOUR brethren agreed that the achievements of the Northern Irishman were beyond brilliant; they forged a body of work worthy of the highest order. In this case, a third Jack Nicklaus Award for being PGA TOUR Player of the Year.

“I wanted to try and bring my best every single week that I played and I feel like I did that to the best of my ability,” said McIlroy, whose credentials were impeccable—three victories,  14 top-10s in 19 starts, the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted-stroke average and the ultimate tribute to a successful season, his second FedExCup win.

The last came as a result of a scintillating victory at the TOUR Championship when McIlroy closed with an exclamation-point 4-under 66 to hold off a stable of heavyweights—Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Paul Casey, Adam Scott—and steal the spotlight at East Lake Golf Club. At first glance, it could be suggested that McIlroy saved his best for last, but the truth is, in 2018-19 McIlroy seemingly had his best every time he teed it up.

Consider: He played 68 stroke-play rounds and after 18 of them, McIlroy owned at least a share of the lead.

For further consideration: So uncanny was his consistency that McIlroy was outside the top 10 in just five of his 19 starts and never in consecutive starts.

And finally, this: The symmetry was staggeringly good. He was top 10 in five of his first six tournaments, then he won. Five more tournaments, three top 10s, then he won. Five more tournaments, three top 10s, then he won.

Three strong components to a stellar campaign, no doubt, but McIlroy believes that his victories in the PGA TOUR’s biggest tournaments—THE PLAYERS Championship and the TOUR Championship to win the FedExCup—resonated with his colleagues. “I think this speaks volumes for what PGA TOUR players feel is important,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s a huge vote of confidence from the players that we play for more than maybe what the narrative suggests.”

The reference was to the presumed weight that is assigned to the four major championships, none of which McIlroy won in 2019, but THE PLAYERS is arguably the toughest field to beat, and the FedExCup puts a premium on consistent, all season-long play.

“We play a lot more [than four weeks],” he said.

McIlroy took enormous pride in his victory at THE PLAYERS, given that the famed Stadium Course had previously perplexed him. And starting the TOUR Championship in fifth place, five strokes behind Thomas in the new scoring formula, then storming to a rousing FedExCupwin, might have swayed voters, he suggested.

“I think the greatest compliment you receive is that your peers feel like you’ve done something pretty special,” said McIlroy, who had previously won the Jack Nicklaus Award in 2012 and 2014 and the FedExCup in 2016.

“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.”

How POY Is Determined

Since the PGA TOUR began presenting the Jack Nicklaus Award to its Player of the Year in 1990, it has been decided by a vote of the membership. This year, online voting commenced a few days after the TOUR Championship concluded Aug. 25 and went through Sept. 6.

PGA TOUR members who played in at least 15 tournaments were eligible to vote. Although the final tally is not revealed, candidates for the Jack Nicklaus Award were Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar and Xander Schauffele.

This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2019-May 2020 issue, which can be read here.

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