What Rory McIlroy's Nike Deal Means for His Rivalry with Tiger Woods

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What Rory McIlroy's Nike Deal Means for His Rivalry with Tiger Woods
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy with Cindy Davis, Nike president, at the announcement.

So Tiger Woods now has a running mate as spokesmen for Nike.

A contract of multiple years in length and worth as much as $250 million or something much less than that. Such are the realities of rumors that have circulated around Rory McIlroy for months.

But really, do the number of years and the number of millions involved really matter? To McIlroy’s bank account it does, but to the golf world, what’s important is what does this deal mean on the course and, of course, what does it mean for the McIlroy-Woods rivalry everybody is pushing for?

Well, for starters, it means McIlroy’s bagful of new Nike sticks will create some added pressure for the 23-year-old No. 1 player in the world. With a budding bromance starting to warm up with Woods, not to mention that hoped-for rivalry for the ages with him, McIlroy’s plate seemed plenty full.

Now he’s got to find a way to make the transition from Titleist to Nike a quick one. There have been plenty big-name golfers who have made equipment changes through the years with disastrous results.

Remember Payne Stewart leaving Wilson to sign with Spalding in 1994? He finished 123rd on the money list the next year. Corey Pavin and Lee Janzen signed big equipment deals and struggled.

Nick Price was the leading moneywinner for two straight years and then switched from Ram to Atrigon. He fell to 30th in money won the next year and never finished higher than 17th again.

Advancements in technology and clubmaking make the chances of a big adjustment time being necessary for McIlroy so that really might not be much of an actual concern. There’s no doubt the young Irishman spent much more time testing Nike’s equipment, having it fine-tuned to meet his needs.

Even more importantly, now that McIlroy and Woods are in the same Nike stable the atmosphere is ripe for an acceleration of this rivalry. The dynamic duo will now be closer than any other high-profile rivals in the history of the game.

Can you imagine how it would have played had Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus represented the same equipment company?

If you can come up with that image, multiply it times 1,000 and you might have something close to what this scenario is going to be like for years to come.

They’ll both be playing the same top-of-the-line equipment, the very best Nike can produce. There will be tweaks on that equipment to suit each player, obviously, but basically it will be the same stuff.

And that will ultimately lead to mega-scrutiny on every shot, every missed shot through tournament after tournament as the two Nike mega-stars go about the business of validating their positions on top of the world golf food chain.

Positioning these two both inside and outside of the company will be a high priority, although the strategy there seems pretty clear: Having survived the catastrophic events of 2009 and coming off a three-win season in 2012, Nike will be counting on Woods’ name and visibility as a big marketing tool.

McIlroy’s worldwide popularity and presence will hopefully help Nike expand its share of the marketplace in what has become an extremely competitive aspect of the game.

“Rory is an extraordinary athlete who creates enormous excitement with his on-course performance while, at the same time, connecting with fans everywhere,” Cindy Davis, Nike Golf's president, said during the announcement. “He is the epitome of a Nike athlete, and he is joining our team during the most exciting time in Nike Golf’s history."

The commercial Woods and McIlroy taped, which will make its on-air debut tomorrow, is funny and puts a light spin on what has a chance to be one of great one-on-one battles in sports.

Magic Johnson-Larry Bird will have nothing on Woods-McIlroy if things evolve as expected.

The game is on already and, in actuality, has been on since McIlroy ended his relationship with Titleist. It was the worst-kept secret ever and now that it’s official, the fun begins this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

As the two make their season debuts, another not-so-veiled secret is that the appearance fees Woods and McIlroy received to play in the desert are almost equal to the purse that’s being offered, $2.7 million. Woods is rumored to be getting $2.5 million and McIlroy getting between $1 and $1.5 million.

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