Saturday 27 December 2014

On-the-move McIlroy chases majors not money

Mark Garrod and Phil Casey

Published 14/01/2013 | 16:59

RORY McIlroy insisted major titles matter more than money after taking a massive step towards becoming one of the biggest earners in sporting history today.

As expected, McIlroy has signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike and although details of the deal were not revealed, it has been widely reported to be a 10-year contract worth as much as £150million if the world number one, previously with Titleist, goes on winning majors.



The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland will use Nike's full range of equipment, with the clubs in competitive action for the first time in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship later this week against a field including the other leading golf name in Nike colours, 14-major winner and world number two Tiger Woods.



And despite concerns expressed by the likes of Nick Faldo about the change of clubs, McIlroy is firmly focused on quickly adding to his two major titles.



"I don't play golf for the money, I am well past that," McIlroy told a press conference in Abu Dhabi.



"I'm a major champion and world number one, which I have always dreamed of being, and feel this is a company that can help me sustain that and win even more major titles.



"At the end of 2013, if I have not won another major I will be disappointed."



Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf, refused to discuss details of McIlroy's contract, including whether there were any "behaviour" clauses given previous problems with Nike athletes Woods and Lance Armstrong.



But she added: "Rory is an extraordinary athlete who creates enormous excitement with his on-course performance while, at the same time, connecting with fans everywhere.



"He is the epitome of a Nike athlete and he is joining our team during the most exciting time in Nike Golf's history. We are looking forward to partnering with him to take his remarkable career to the next level."



McIlroy, a boy wonder who was the world under-10 champion in 1998, turned professional in 2007, two months after finishing as the leading amateur in The Open at Carnoustie.



Only 18 at the time, he finished third in the Dunhill Links at St Andrews on just his second start in the paid ranks, but had to wait until the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic for his first victory.



Perhaps amazingly, he has still to win on European soil, all his successes since coming in America (five, including two majors), Asia (two) or back in the Middle East - he finished last season with five birdies in a row to lift the DP World Tour title in Dubai.



It was the 2011 US Masters that put him on a new level in terms of fame and popularity.



McIlroy led by four with a round to play and was still out in front at the turn, but in an horrific back-nine meltdown he crashed to an 80 and ended up in only 15th place, 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.



The sporting world waited to see how long the mental scars would last, and got their answer two months later when he won the US Open by eight shots.



At just 22 he was the youngest winner of the title since Bobby Jones in 1923. A superstar was born.



"If you are going to talk about someone challenging the record of Jack Nicklaus there's your man," said Padraig Harrington, referring to the Golden Bear's 18 majors.



"At his age he's probably got 100 more majors where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance."



Told of the Dubliner's comment and aware of the expectation it would lead to, McIlroy sighed: "Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy."



But he has a second major already and it was again achieved by a runaway eight-shot margin at the USPGA Championship last August.



It took him back to the world number one spot he had been fighting Luke Donald for most of the year, but with three more tournament victories since then he is now way out at the top of the rankings.



With Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki his partner for the past 18 months, McIlroy's celebrity status has grown even more.



Having changed girlfriends, McIlroy then changed managers 14 months ago, leaving the same stable as Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke to join Dublin-based Horizon Sports.



His close friend Graeme McDowell had been the leading client on their books, but now, of course, McIlroy is in a league of his own.



In demand the world over, he has had to learn the art of saying "No" at times, but was unlikely to do that when Nike made their approach.



Although Faldo has questioned the decision to switch from Titleist, McIlroy said in November: "I think all the manufacturers make great equipment nowadays and it's all very similar.



"A lot of them get their clubs made at the same factories. I don't think it will make any difference.



"I've started the process of trying a few new things. I've tinkered about a little bit with the new ones, enough to feel comfortable going into next season."



That season is now here and for McIlroy it starts in the desert on Thursday.



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