The last two months changed everything.
McIlroy was announced Tuesday as player of the year, and while the tour does not disclose the vote of its players, this was the equivalent of a tap-in. McIlroy wound up with four wins, including his eight-shot victory in the PGA Championship, and made a clean sweep of the biggest awards by winning the money title and having the lowest adjusted scoring average.
"It's just a great way to end what has been a great year, my best season so far," McIlroy said.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland became the youngest player to win PGA Tour player of the year since Tiger Woods at age 21 in 1997. He also was the third European to win in the last five years, joining Padraig Harrington on Ireland in 2008 and Luke Donald of England last year.
John Huh, who earned his card through Q-school, was voted PGA Tour rookie of the year in another race that was easy to predict. Huh won an opposite-field event in Mexico, but perhaps his greater achievement was becoming the only rookie to make it to the Tour Championship, a measure of good play all year. That gets Huh into the Masters next year for the first time.
He beat out Jonas Blixt and Charlie Beljan, who won in the Fall Series, Greenbrier winner Ted Potter Jr. and Bud Cauley, the only rookie who didn't win this year.
Also on the ballot for player of the year were Tiger Woods with three wins, Jason Dufner and his two wins in the spring, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Brandt Snedeker, whose second win this year at the Tour Championship allowed him to capture the FedEx Cup.
None compared with McIlroy, who pulled away from every over the final two months of the season.
After his eight-shot win at Kiawah, he won the Deutsche Bank Championship after a duel with Louis Oosthuizen, and then won the next playoff event in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick against a leaderboard that included Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Woods.
McIlroy's other win came earlier in the year, when he held off Woods to win the Honda Classic and go to No. 1 in the world for the first time. McIlroy went to No. 1 three more times during an inconsistent summer until he established himself as the best in golf at the PGA Championship.
"I think everyone knows that my game wasn't where I wanted it to be through the start of the summer and leading up to the PGA," McIlroy said on a conference call.
He tied for fifth at Firestone the week before the final major to gain a little more confidence, though he said his expectations were lower than usual for a major considering his summer doldrums. He turned a two-shot deficit into an eight-shot win with a 67-66 weekend at Kiawah, and off he went.
"I didn't want to let this opportunity pass me because it was a great opportunity to win my second major," McIlroy said. "And from that I gained a lot of confidence, knowing that I could win my second major. And I went on from there."
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who introduced McIlroy, was as impressed with his behavior off the course as his skill level inside the ropes.
"He has handled himself in terrific fashion," Finchem said. "He has been very direct with the media and entertaining to the fans inside and outside the ropes. He is at a very young age already making a very solid contribution to what is the most important asset of the PGA Tour, and that is the image of its players. For that, I thank him."
The one question McIlroy has fielded since closing out his year with a win in Dubai -- giving him money titles on the PGA Tour and European Tour -- is what he will do for an encore. He is about to change equipment from Titleist to Nike. McIlroy starts his season Jan. 17 in Abu Dhabi against a strong field.
"What would be a success next season compared to this one? I guess it's just trying to become a better golfer, maybe add more variety to my game," he said. "But you know, we're judged on wins, ultimately. ... I won my first major in `11, I backed it up this season with another one, and I'd love to go into `13 with that same goal of trying to win another major.
"I think really what was disappointing this year for me -- if there was a disappointment -- that I was only in contention once in the majors, and luckily I was able to win it," he said. "But next year I'd love to be in contention in all four of them."
McIlroy has never played at three of the four majors in the rotation next year -- Merion, Muirfield or Oak Hill.
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