The 22-year-old capped a spectacular year by winning his first major championship — the US Open — and pipped Open champion Darren Clarke for the award while Ulster and Ireland rugby star Rory Best was third.
“Looking back on 2011, it’s been an amazing 12 months of my life,” said McIlroy. “It’s been a year I will always remember, not least because I won my first major.
“That victory at the US Open in Washington would not have been possible without the fantastic support from my family. I would also like to thank all the great support from everyone in Northern Ireland.
“I’m looking forward to getting to Belfast for Christmas — and then in 2012, hopefully bringing more silverware back home.”
If he wins the overall BBC Sports Personality of the Year he will complete a rare double for an Irish sports star.
A shortlist of seven sports stars was voted on by a panel of judges comprising Irish FA President Jim Shaw, Sport NI chief executive Eammon McCartan, Ulster director of rugby David Humphreys, former Armagh great Oisin McConville, ex-Northern Ireland captain Jim Magilton and editor of sport at BBC NI, Shane Glynn.
Also in the running for the award were paralympian Sally Brown, Donegal GAA All Star Karl Lacey, Dungiven boxer Paul McCloskey and British Supersport champion Alastair Seeley.