News & Opinion

2020 vision: Will Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy reign supreme?

WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational
Rory McIlroy (left) and Brooks Koepka

John Hawkins expects Koepka to rack up more major moments, but Mike Purkey likes McIlroy to build on his 2019 surge

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Who will have the better 2020 season, Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy?

Hawkins: You’re asking me to choose between a player with four major titles over the past 32 months or a guy who hasn’t won one in 5½ years? That’s not a fair fight, of course, but neither was Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas. Although McIlroy is the man most capable of supplanting Koepka atop the Official World Golf Ranking, I’m not among those who fancy his chances because he has underperformed at the game’s biggest events for such a lengthy period. Koepka finds a way to win. McIlroy trips over his shoelaces. Last summer’s British Open was a perfect example.

Two weeks later, the two would meet in the final pairing at the WGC in Memphis. Koepka flattened the Northern Irishman by six strokes on Sunday, winning by three. It’s one of several reasons why last year’s Player of the Year voting by their peers was downright shameful. McIlroy’s body of work didn’t come close to topping Koepka’s in 2019. It’s hard to envision that changing any time soon, even if the big fella’s bum left knee keeps him out of action for another two months.

The majors are the measure. Not the only way of gauging greatness but certainly the most significant. Koepka is the best player in the world and will continue to hold that distinction. McIlroy has become an underachiever by comparison, and until he ends that half-decade major drought, there really isn’t much to discuss.

Purkey: It’s pretty obvious why Rory McIlroy will have the better year in 2020: He’s properly motivated. Brooks Koepka flicked away any talk of a rivalry between the two when he said, “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 don't view it as a rivalry.” McIlroy shrugged it off and insisted that the two are friends. But you can bet your last Irish pound that McIlroy wants nothing more than to render that statement meaningless.

McIlroy was the PGA Tour Player of the Year, which has to eat at Koepka, who won the PGA Championship and finished among the top 4 in the other three majors, which is the same as not winning. McIlroy won the Players Championship, the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup, and his fellow players thought that was the better year. And McIlroy already has a victory in the current wraparound season.

McIlroy always has played better with a little chip on his shoulder. Koepka, who believes he doesn’t get enough respect, seems to be playing with an implanted chip. Koepka is No. 1 in the world, and McIlroy is No. 2. McIlroy is 30 and hasn’t had anything to prove in some time. Until now.