THANK heavens the man Rory McIlroy endorsed for the Ryder Cup captaincy, Paul McGinley, fared considerably better in Abu Dhabi this week than the golf clubs, especially the putter, the World No 1 now endorses for Nike.
Eagle-eyed observers were surprised to note during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship that the putter McIlroy's caddie was pulling from a black Nike headcover was, in fact, the trusty Scotty Cameron with which the 23-year-old won both of his Major titles.
The Nike Method OO1 prototype putter which McIlroy wielded in competition for the first time on Thursday, lasted just 18 holes!
After celebrating their 'marriage' to the Holywood star in an elaborate ceremony here on Monday, the honeymoon appeared to be turning into a PR nightmare for the giant sports equipment manufacturer.
Especially when McIlroy, clearly also struggling to come to grips with his new VRS Covert Driver, missed the weekend for the first time at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, a tournament in which he'd finished top five in all four previous appearances.
In fairness, his old putter made precious little difference as the Ulsterman completed his 36 holes on six-over, four outside the cut mark.
And McIlroy, far from taking up where he'd left off with that brilliantly executed DP World Championship victory in Dubai eight weeks ago, stirred memories of his hangdog days early last summer with deflating back-to-back 75s.
"It's the first week," McIlroy insisted. "I wouldn't read too much into the change. If anything, it's more the Indian than the arrow."
Soothingly, Nike dismissed any suggestion of dismay with his decision to discard their putter. "We understand it takes time," a spokesperson stated. "It's a process and we're confident he'll change when he's ready."
McIlroy offered a perfectly plausible reason for his action, saying: "The greens I've been practising on in Florida are faster than these. The Nike putter is great on them, but felt a little light for the greens here, which aren't particularly quick. It's just a weight issue. The one I used today is a little heavier and I felt I could get my ball to the hole a little better, though the putts still didn't go in. It's just for one week."
Clearly, it's too early to push the panic button, while credit is due to McIlroy for refusing to compromise by persevering with a putter which plainly did not suit him on the greens in Abu Dhabi.
At last Monday's gala launch of his (estimated) $20m-per-annum deal with Nike, McIlroy declined to say if he was obliged under the terms of that contract to use their putter – well, he certainly has provided an emphatic answer to that question by deed rather than words.
He'd have relished the opportunity to take on Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer in the show group in Abu Dhabi with a driver which gave him the opportunity to play to his phenomenal strength off the tee as effectively as with his old Titleist 913D3.
"I'm really happy with the irons. I'm really happy with the ball and the wedges. The putter's good on fast greens. I probably just need to find a driver I'm comfortable with. I didn't drive the ball at all well and I feel that's a big advantage to me, driving the ball."
Though the 12 out of 28 fairways McIlroy hit was one more than he managed in the first two rounds last year, his misses this week were wider and more punishing.
On the relatively rare occasions both managed to find the same fairway with their driver, McIlroy seemed to have lost distance to his Nike stablemate Woods, lending strength to range rumours that he's unhappy with the ball flight he achieves with his crimson Covert.
Typically, he made no effort to conceal his disappointment with a dreadful, rust-ridden display.
"All aspects of my game were off. I didn't drive the ball well. My iron play wasn't anywhere near the standard that it usually is," he said. "I'm struggling with my swing a little bit. I just need to put in a bit of work on the range.
"It's very disappointing not to be playing this weekend," he said. "But I've got to realise that it is only the beginning of the year. As long as I feel my game's in good shape heading into Augusta, that's all I'm worried about."
After spending this weekend practising in Abu Dhabi, he's certain to hit many balls before returning to action in the WGC Accenture Match Play in Tucson in four weeks.
Horizon Sports Management Chief Conor Ridge, who is McIlroy's agent, was sanguine. "It's going to take time. He's got to work the clubs in gradually. It always was going to be that way and Rory knew that from the start.
"You can't make a change like that and just seamlessly hit the tracks straight away. It's just not normal, you know?"
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