The 2013 PGA Tour season is has only just begun and both Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have things to prove.
It’s the young Ulsterman, however, who has the most to prove in the wake of a major equipment change and atrocious play last week in Abu Dhabi.
Woods, for his part—as he returns to the scene of his last major championship victory—needs to prove that his missed cut last week was a fluke (not aided by a two stroke penalty, to be sure).
Tiger also needs to prove that he is swinging the club better than he was at the end of the last season to strengthen the narrative that his work with Sean Foley is paying off. Woods also must demonstrate to fans, and to the rest of the field, that he is still a force to be reckoned with at Torrey Pines, a course where has won seven times, including the 2008 U.S. Open Championship.
Rory McIlroy’s much-anticipated and much-ballyhooed switch from Titleist to Nike has been the equipment story of the year, to be sure. Speculation mounted about a move to Nike months ago, when Rory and Titleist announced they were parting ways at the end of 2012. Immediately thereafter, everyone seemed to know Rory would be taking his talents to Nike, swinging their giant grape-colored Covert once he began his 2013 campaign.
After much fanfare, all of this proved to be true. Rory McIlroy stepped to the first tee at the HSBC Golf Championship with 14 Nike Clubs in his bag, right down to the Nike Method putter, which replaced his trusty Scotty Cameron.
After a first-round 75, the Cameron putter returned, opening the door to (probably largely unfounded) speculation that he wouldn’t have success with the Nike putter, and suggestions that he shouldn’t have put the putter in play in golf forums and grill rooms alike.
It’s important for McIlroy that questioning of his equipment-related decisions doesn’t creep beyond the putter. He mustn't allow the possibility that he isn’t used to his Nike clubs to be raised. Ditto that they are inferior to his previous equipment, or that he will never get used to swinging a Nike VR PRO II, rather than a Titleist 712 MB.
He needs to quiet the whispers and indicate that his 2013 campaign will continue the upward trajectory he established with five worldwide victories in 2012.
Unfortunately, McIlory won't have the chance to put those concerns to rest this week.
Woods, however, can avail himself with a strong showing in La Jolla.