Ranking the PGA Tour Player of the Year nominees, from least to most likely to win

August 29, 2019

The 2018-19 PGA Tour season is in the books, which marks the start of the really fun stuff: Debating who should win the Jack Nicklaus Award — aka the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. There’s a good bunch of candidates to consider, each with strong cases as to why they deserve to be the Player of the Year.

But, alas, there can only be one. So here’s a quick rundown of the four candidates, each of their cases, along with my ranking of the players from least-to-most likely to win.

4th Most Likely To win: Matt Kuchar

The Case For Kuchar

The strength of Kuchar’s game has always been his remarkable consistency, and that was no different this year with 20 of 22 made cuts, eight of those Top 10s. But Kuchar kicked it up a notch by clocking a two-win season for just the second time in his career in 2018-19. He was playing like the best player in golf throughout the wraparound season, and finished T-12 and T-8 in the first two majors of the year.

The Case Against Kuchar

Kuchar, in some ways, was a victim of his own success. Had he notched his two wins later in the season, he would’ve been fresh in our minds and finished higher in the FedEx Cup standings. But he didn’t. He got his wins earlier in the season, at events where the fields weren’t as strong and the FedEx Cup points haul wasn’t as fruitful. His form was never going to be sustainable over the course of an entire season. Maybe if he followed it with a major, his case would’ve been harder to argue.

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3rd Most Likely: Xander Schauffele

The Case For Xander

Schauffele’s case is actually quite similar to Kuchar’s. It’s one of season-long consistency — 18 of 21 made cuts — with two victories, one of which was a WGC. He also rounded into form at an important time: Towards the end of the season, which helped him finish 2nd in the FedEx Cup. That helps his case more than anything else, and is why I’ve put him in this third-place spot.

The Case Against Xander

I’m torn about whether I should’ve ranked Kuchar in this spot. Kuchar has the same number of wins and a better Top 10 finish percentage in more events. Just writing that makes me want to put Kuchar in this spot. You can’t discard Xander’s two wins, but without a major victory in there, it’s hard to consider him a true Player of the Year candidate

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2nd Most Likely To Win: Rory McIlroy

The Case For Rory

Fans can make a really solid case for Rory to win Player of the Year. What’s not to love? 17 made cuts in 19 starts with 14 top 10s. He also won both of the PGA Tour’s two most important prizes: the Players (which took a very major-y vibe heading into the event) and the FedEx Cup, along with wins at the RBC Canadian Open and Tour Championship along the way. He led the PGA Tour in scoring average, too. If the PGA Tour wants to make a statement about how highly it values its events, Rory should win this thing.

The Case Against Rory

Honestly, there’s not much of one. If I was in charge, Rory would be winning this thing. But because golf’s gold standard remains how you perform in the four majors, and because Rory’s resume this season doesn’t stack up to one other player, public perception isn’t on his side.

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Most Likely To Win: Brooks Koepka

The Case For Brooks

Brooks won the PGA Championship for a second time and finished in the top five in all four majors (two of those were runner-up finishes). One of his other wins was a WGC, too. The rest of his stats aren’t as good as Rory’s, but the reason why Brooks is the most likely player to win Player of the Year is simple: On the biggest stage, Brooks’ light repeatedly shines the brightest. The major championships are how we measure players in golf, across seasons and across generations. Brooks continues to raise the standard ever-higher when it matters most.

The Case Against Brooks

The majors are one thing, but the PGA Tour has an emerging set of values that it wants to champion. It wants fans to consider the Players Championship akin to a major. It wants the FedEx Cup to be close behind. Brooks, as good as he was in majors, doesn’t stack up to Rory in any of those regards: He was third in the FedEx Cup and fourth in Scoring Average, with a top 10 percentage of 45 percent compared to Rory’s whopping 73 percent. If you want to crown the best PGA Tour player, Rory deserves it.

John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

Rookie Of The Year

And because Rookie of the Year is also up for grabs, here’s a rapid-fire ranking of those candidates:

5th Most Likely: Adam Long

Deserves an honorable mention.

4th Most Likely: Cameron Champ

Looked like a lock early on, but cooled down as the season rolled on.

3rd Most Likely: Matt Wolff

Winning in just his second professional start makes him a strong contender

2nd Most Likely: Colin Morikawa

It’s not just his victory. It’s that he went nine for nine made cuts, with three top 10s.

Most Likely: Sungjae Im

Hard not to crown Sungjae, who hasn’t just been a workhorse with 35 starts, but has been consistent throughout, with 16 top 25s.

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