By Brian Wacker
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There’s still a month left in the PGA Tour season, but can anyone unseat Brooks Koepka in the race for Player of the Year honours?
“I think it’s hard with Brooks winning two majors,” Gary Woodland started to say when asked about Koepka’s chances.
Koepka, of course, won only one major this year.
“Well it feels like he wins every one,” Woodland said with a sheepish laugh after being reminded of that fact.
And that was from the guy who beat Koepka to win the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Still, Woodland wasn’t far off. Koepka finished second at the Masters and U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, won the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black then finished fourth at the Open at Royal Portrush in the year’s final major. His major record alone stands out from every other golfer on tour.
Then on Sunday, he added to his haul with a victory at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his third title of the 2018-’19 season (the CJ Cup last October was the other).
“No one’s played better than him,” said Jason Day. “That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world.”
And it’s not close, with more than three points separating him from second-ranked Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Rankings, a margin that hasn’t been that wide since just before the 2017 Open Championship. Unlike 2018, where five different golfers held the No. 1 ranking for a portion of the year, in 2019 it’s essentially been all Koepka’s.
Besides the World No. 1 ranking, Koepka also has clinched the top spot in the FedEx Cup regular-season standings. With just the Wyndham Championship remaining, Koepka has a 572-point lead on McIlroy, with neither of them playing in Greensboro. By finishing first in the points race in the regular season, Koepka takes home a $2 million bonus for claiming the Wyndham Rewards title.
“He could have won the Grand Slam this year,” said Paul Casey. “I almost think he should have. At the Masters, he left so many shots out on the golf course and he still finished second.”
So how could Koepka wind up not actually winning the POY? McIlroy, Matt Kuchar and Xander Schauffele all have two wins apiece, though none of them came in a major championship. If any of them went on a run between now and the end of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, winning multiple titles and the FedEx Cup itself, conceivably they could have a case that they performed better than Koepka.
McIlroy boasts the best resume with his two wins coming at the Players and the RBC Canadian Open, where he shot a final-round 61. He also finished T-8 at the PGA and T-9 at the U.S. Open. However, the ugliness of the head-to-head loss to Koepka at TPC Southwind on Sunday won’t help his cause.
Moreover, Koepka, who also took home POY honours last year, has stood out simply stood out.
“The way he’s played — he’s the closest thing to Tiger since Tiger,” Casey said. “The way he’s hung around majors, there’s been some rare occasions, but no one has done that since Tiger. Brooks’ style of golf is dominant. It doesn’t matter the course, doesn’t matter the field. I think he’s brilliant and I don’t often say that about other players.”