One could make the case that Rory McIlroy had already taken the golfing world's prise première after a dominant eight-shot victory at the PGA Championship in August.
With the victory, McIlroy recaptured golf's No. 1 ranking, and became the youngest multi-major winner since Spaniard Seve Ballesteros.
For those that still needed convincing, McIlroy cemented his superiority with a one-shot win over Tiger Woods at the duo's duel at Jinsha Lake in China late last month, and has recently been rumored to join Tiger at Nike Golf for a deal worth no less than $200 million, as reported by FoxSports.com.
While nothing has been officially signed, Titleist has revealed that it would not be moving forward with McIlroy, leaving a prime opportunity for Nike to shore up its sponsorship for the next decade.
There has been a fair amount of speculation behind the motives of a label switch, but so far we haven't seen anyone take a gander at which specific clubs might be in McIlroy's bag next season. Ironically, the best measuring stick for this task is Tiger Woods, but the two could still have a few key differences when they tee it up next year.
Let's take a club-by-club look at what would be in Rory's bag if he does choose to sign with Nike.
Tiger's Choice: Nike VR Tour 8.5
Rory's Choice (projected): Nike VR Pro 8.0
According to his official website, Tiger uses the Nike VR Tour driver with an 8.5 degree loft, which was Nike's premier big stick in 2010. If Rory signs with Nike, he may choose to go with the newer VR Pro, which has a slightly bigger club head, hotter face and an adjustable loft.
This last point will likely be extremely important to McIlroy, who used an 8.5 degree Titleist 910 D2 most of this season. McIlroy has stated that his driver has been adjusted to act more like a 7.75 degree in the past, so it is likely that he would choose a lower-lofted driver than Tiger.
Tiger's Choice: Nike VR Pro LTD 3 Wood (15 degree), Nike SQ II 5 Wood (19 degree)
Rory's Choice (projected): Nike VR Pro 3 Wood (13 degree), Nike VR Pro 5 Wood (17 degree)
The main point of difference between Tiger and Rory when it comes to the fairway metals is launch angle. McIlroy's swing naturally produces a higher ball flight than Tiger's, which explains why he would choose to use a lower-lofted combo.
Additionally, Tiger's preference of the older SQ II 5 Wood is purely because of familiarity, and his decision to use the Nike Pro LTD 3 Wood instead of the non-LTD version is likely because it does not have an adjustable loft. We'd guess that Rory would prefer the Nike VR Pro woods because they do have this option.
Tiger's Choice: Nike VR Pro Blades
Rory's Choice (projected): Nike VR Pro Blades
In 2012, Rory primarily used Titlelist 712 MB irons, which are the company's newest version of its classic forged blades. Nike's only top-level iron set is its VR Pro series, but that's really all it needs. These blades rival Titlelist's in terms of feel, and sport new a new "X3X groove system" that places more grooves closer together for better consistency. For a superior ball striker like Rory, maintaining this level of consistency—especially in his long irons—is of the utmost importance.
Tiger's Choice: Nike 56 degree VR Pro SW, Nike 60 degree VR Pro LW
Rory's Choice (projected): Nike 54 degree VR Pro SW, Nike 59 degree VR Pro LW
As was the case with Rory's driver and fairway metals, his Titleist Vokey sand wedge has two degrees less loft than Tiger's, and his lob wedge is one degree steeper. It's probable that the golfer would maintain these lofts if he switched to Nike, which offers the VR Pro series.
Nike also sells the Pro Forged DS series, which has the same novel groove system as its blades, but every PGA Tour pro on the company's payroll has chosen to go with the more traditional VR Pros. Rory would likely do the same.
Tiger's Choice: Nike Method 001
Rory's Choice (projected): Nike Method 002
If Rory does sign a deal with Nike, one of the most important club choices he will make will be on the greens. The golfer currently uses a Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport GSS, which is softer than many carbon steel putters used today. Thankfully for Rory's sake, Nike's putters uses a similar CNC-milled stainless steel face in five different styles.
Tiger uses the Nike Method 001, which is a traditional blade putter much like Ping's original Anser series. Rory may choose to go with the Method 002, which has a slightly more organic look to it, much more similar to the putter he's currently using.
Tiger's Choice: One Tour D
Rory's Choice (projected): 20XI-X
The One Tour D came out in 2009, and soon thereafter, Tiger began using the ball. Touted as a better combination of distance and feel than Titleist's Pro V1, it's notable that Nike has actually made some improvements to its design in the three years since its release.
If Rory McIlroy does sign with Nike, which equipment change will you be watching most closely?
As is the case with a few of his clubs we mentioned above, it's safe to say that Tiger has stuck with the One Tour D due to familiarity, but there's no reason for Rory to do the same.
Most likely, a deal with Nike would mean that McIlroy would begin playing one of the company's newest pro-style balls, either the 20XI-X or the 20XI-S. Because he has chosen to hit the harder Pro V1X in the past, Rory would likely go with the 20XI-X, which offers a bit more distance.
Nike's new 20XI series is the Tour's first ball to use a resin core, rather than a rubber core. It was used by a handful of professionals this year, including Anthony Kim, Steven Ames, Francesco Molinari, and Carl Pettersson. Notably, Golf Digest gave the ball its Hot List gold metal, ranking it as a more innovative alternative to the Pro V1.
We've taken a look through Rory McIlroy's hypothetical bag if he signs a deal with Nike next year, and there are a few points for further thought:
1. It'll be interesting to learn which driver Rory prefers, as Tiger is still using an older version of Nike's VR series.
2. An equally intriguing decision will be made about Nike's fairway metals, which Rory would likely choose to de-loft.
3. While irons and wedges are an easy guess, the putter is not. We'd assume Rory would go with either the Method 001 or 002; the latter is most similar to the Scotty Cameron he currently uses.
4. Most importantly, the toughest aspect of a Nike deal for Rory would be his move away from Titleist's Pro V1X to the company's own 20XI series. Assuming he doesn't choose the three-year-old One Tour D that Tiger is using, the 20XI-X might work the best for Rory, and its resin core could take his game to new heights.
That's all the speculation for now; let me know in the poll which equipment change you'd be watching closely if Rory signs with Nike.