Rory McIlroy denied Brooks Koepka three significant pieces of hardware (and cash) at the end of the PGA Tour season. The Ulsterman’s breakthrough at East Lake in the Tour Championship signaled to some observers that the world No. 1 Koepka has a worthy rival.
However, Koepka pushed back on the idea he’s in the midst of a rivalry with McIlroy. The American said McIlroy isn’t even in his current company in the majors, the four tournaments Koepka values most.
“I’ve been out here for, what, five years? Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry,” Koepka said to AFP ahead of this week’s CJ Cup at Nine Bridges on Jeju Island in South Korea.
Koepka, the defending champion, has made it clear he values the major championships above all others. He’s won four in the last three seasons, quickly matching McIlroy’s career tally, which has been stuck since back-to-back major triumphs in the 2014 British Open Championship and PGA Championship. Up until the season-ending PGA Tour event in Atlanta, it seemed Koepka, who won the PGA Championship and finished in the top five in all four majors this year, was a lock for the PGA Tour’s peer-voted Player of the Year award.
Then McIlroy won the Tour Championship and, in the process, the FedEx Cup and its $15 million first-place prize in a tight battle with Koepka. The win capped off a three-victory season, including The Players and the RBC Canadian Open, pitting McIlroy’s trio against Koepka’s wins at the CJ Cup, the PGA Championship and the World Golf Championships event in Memphis. While McIlroy was seen as more consistent against the field week-to-week with a record strokes-gained tally, he was also helped by peers who apparently put The Players on equal footing with the majors.
In the end, McIlroy won the peer vote and took home the Jack Nicklaus trophy in a genuinely shocking outcome, marking the first time since 1991 that the PGA Tour Player of the Year winner was different than the points-based PGA of America Player of the Year Award.
Koepka leads the Official World Golf Ranking by some 2.5 average points per tournament over McIlroy, a sizable lead. The American said he’s looking to expand that lead, and he doesn’t hear McIlroy’s footsteps.
“I’m No. 1 in the world,” Koepka said. “I’ve got open road in front of me I’m not looking in the rear-view mirror, so I don’t see it as a rivalry.”
He added, “Look, I love Rory. He’s a great player and he’s fun to watch, but it’s just hard to believe there’s a rivalry in golf. I just don’t see it.”