CHIBA, Japan — Rory McIlroy chose the high road, acknowleding that Brooks Koepka had a point when he recently said the Northern Irishman was not a true rival because his major championship victories had been achieved before Koepka was even on the PGA Tour.
McIlroy was asked about Koepka’s comments during the broadcast Monday afternoon of The Challenge: Japan Skins, a four-person event carried by a streaming service called GolfTV.
“What Brooks said wasn’t wrong,” said McIlroy, who was competing along with Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama on Monday at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, site of this week’s Zozo Championship.
“He’s been the best player in the world for the last couple of years. Four majors. Don’t think he had to remind me that I haven’t won one in a while. I love Brooks. He’s a great guy. He’s super competitive like we all are. I see where he’s coming from.”
McIlroy, 30, won the last of his four major titles at the 2014 PGA Championship. Koepka, 29, joined the PGA Tour full time in 2015 and has won four majors over the past two years and is No. 1 in the world.
Earlier this year, Koepka outplayed McIlroy over the final round in Memphis to capture the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship. A month later, it was McIlroy who prevailed over Koepka in the final round of the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup and $15-million.
When asked by Agency French Press about the rivalry heading into last week’s CJ Cup in South Korea, Koepka didn’t hold back.
“I’ve been out here for, what, five years,” Koepka told AFP. “Rory hasn’t won a major since I’ve been on the PGA Tour. So I just don’t view it as a rivalry. “I’m No. 1 in the world. I’ve got an open road ahead of me. I’m not looking in the rearview mirror so I’m not seeing it as a rivalry.”
Koepka, who was defending his title at the CJ Cup, withdrew after slipping on a sidewalk and aggravating a knee injury on Friday. He was not scheduled to play this week’s Zozo Championship, the first official PGA Tour event to be played in Japan.
“I said a couple of things after the Tour Championship as I approached the final round as a little bit of a rivalry because he got one over on me in Memphis,” McIlroy said. “And I sort of wanted to get him back. I think it’s good for the game. I think if you take what Brooks said out of context, it can become this big thing that it’s become.
“But Brooks and I are good friends. I’ve been really happy for him to see how go he’s played over the last couple of years.”