If Brooks Koepka owned the majors in 2019, Rory McIlroy owned everything else. He won the First Non-Major. He had the best statistical scoring season of the decade. And now, in a lucrative stroke of poetic justice, he is the FedEx Cup champion.
After trading the lead with Koepka and Xander Schauffele for the majority of a marathon Sunday, McIlroy pulled late at East Lake to win the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and the $15 million grand prize that comes with it.
“I played hard in New York, and then in Chicago, and then here,” McIlroy said after the round. “I’m pretty tired. But I’m about to enjoy a few drinks tonight.”
His final-round 66 and four-round (adjusted) total of 18 under was good for a four-shot victory over Schauffele, whose consolation will be a $5 million check for second.
Koepka and Justin Thomas, who won last week’s BMW Championship and entered this week leading the season-long points race, finished tied for third and will each take home $3.5 million for their efforts.
The victory is McIlroy’s third of the season, to go along with the Players and RBC Canadian Open, and the 17th of his PGA Tour career. He joins Tiger Woods as the only players to have won two FedEx Cups. It’s always a good thing when the only two people to have done something are you and Tiger Woods.
How sweet this one must taste, given the scar tissue he’d accumulated in huge moments of recent vintage. There was the home game-missed cut at Royal Portrush; letdowns of varying degrees at the other three majors; toothless performances in so many final pairings—including the one four Sundays ago in Memphis, when he faded while watching Koepka surge to win a World Golf Championship.
The pairing was the same this time around, but the roles flipped. McIlroy watched as Koepka made three straight bogeys on the back nine to torpedo his chances of adding a FedEx Cup to his rapidly growing trophy collection. That’s when, almost as if the prospect of winning $15 million made him feel something, McIlroy’s previously pristine ball striking went awry. After striping virtually every shot for his first 25 holes of the day—play resumed Sunday morning after inclement weather, including a lightning strike that sent five fans to the hospital, truncated play on Saturday with the leaders midway through the front nine—he made back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15 before holing a massive 9-footer for par on 16 that kept his lead at 2.
Schauffele missed makeable birdie efforts at 15 and 17 to effectively end his run, and McIlroy made a three-perfect-shot birdie at 17 to give himself all the cushion he needed. How different his walk up East Lake’s 18th hole was from the one he took a year ago. This time, with a three-shot lead, McIlroy sauntered up with the tournament deep in his back pocket. Last year, he got lost amid a swarming crowd fighting for position to witness Woods’s first victory since returning from back surgery.
McIlroy started the week in fifth place at 5 under par—this was the first year of a new scoring system where a player’s standing in the FedEx Cup determined his starting score—and played the four days in 13 under, three shots better than anyone else in the field. It was a welcomed development for the Tour, which faced a number of questions as to the merits of this experimental format. What if the player with the lowest 72-hole score didn’t win the tournament? What if a player like Abraham Ancer, who did not win all year, got hot this week and won the FedEx Cup?
In hindsight, that chatter was purely academic. The new format produced a three-horse race between three world-class players, easy-to-follow scenarios, a hugely entertaining Sunday afternoon and a more-than-worthy champion.
While Koepka is certainly still the favorite to win Player of the Year—his three wins matched McIlroy’s total and, crucially, one of those was a major—McIlroy’s performance will earn him serious consideration. The season, more or less, boiled down to this: Koepka was King of the Majors. McIlroy was King of Everything Else.