News Column

Did Tiger Woods Recruit Rory McIlroy to Nike?

November 2, 2012

Garry Smits

When Tiger talked to Rory ... So maybe this is what Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were talking about when they appeared very chummy during rounds in which they were grouped together.

Titleist announced earlier this week that it was ending its relationship with McIlroy, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, as of Dec. 31. It frees McIlroy to sign a lucrative deal with Nike, the hottest rumor of the off-season, for a deal widely reported to be in the neighborhood of $20 million per year.

Perhaps Woods was a good recruiter. He and McIlroy have been in the same group five times during the PGA Tour Playoffs and recently competed in an exhibition in China -- getting along like lifelong buddies each time.

McIlroy shot 67 to beat Woods by one in the exhibition and was seen taking a Nike club out of Woods' bag on the fourth tee and taking some practice swings with it.

The McIlroy deal marks the third time in 12 years that the No. 1-ranked player in the world has left Titleist for Nike. Woods had a brand and apparel deal with Nike from the time he turned professional in 1996 but used Titleist balls until 2000 and worked Nike clubs into the rest of his bag over a three-year period.

After David Duval was ranked No. 1 in 1999, he left Titleist for Nike the following year. Other big-name players who have departed Titleist for other companies include Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia and Davis Love III.

That may not be all. According to the Associated Press, Nick Watney, who won in Malaysia with a final-round 61, may also leave for Nike at the end of the year.

Titleist will continue to build its marketing around a large inventory: It has more than 80 touring professionals using the ball and clubs and still has Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson, Bud Cauley and Steve Stricker in the stable.

Victory counts, money doesn't

This week's World Golf Championship HSBC Champions in China will count as an official PGA Tour victory for members, with a three-year exemption. If a non-member wins, the exemption will not be available but the player will get into the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.

Earnings from the $7 million purse won't count as official money.

However, all that changes next year under the new PGA Tour schedule. The HSBC Champions will be part of the FedEx Cup and will offer official points, earnings and a victory.

Tiger goes low

Woods made 28 birdies in the CIMB Classic last week, matching his career low for one tournament. He made 28 birdies in the 2006 Buick Open and the 2007 Tour Championship, both of which he won.

Woods also shot in the 60s in all four rounds, the second time this season (he did it at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where he finished third).

Donald donates

Luke Donald will not play in the Tour's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic next week at Disney World, which he won last year, because of a scheduled medical procedure for one of his children. However, Donald has made an unspecified donation to the Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, a Children's Miracle Network facility. ... With three cuts made and two top-three finishes, Jonas Blixt of Jacksonville Beach is the leading earner on the PGA Tour Fall Series, with Disney left to play. Blixt won the Frys.com Open and finished third in Las Vegas. He's won $1,212,840. ... By finishing 19th on the Web.com Tour money list, Morgan Hoffman became the first winner of the Junior Players Championship to earn a PGA Tour card. Hoffman won the inaugural event in 2007. Bud Cauley of Jacksonville, who was a Tour rookie this year, finished third in the 2007 Junior Players.



Source: (c) 2012 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services