Rory McIlroy starts 2013 under pressure as the World Number One and has already courted controversy by his decision to join Tiger Woods at Nike. With figures as high as $250 million being bandied about for the ten-year deal, it is no wonder that some are questioning the motives behind the switch from Titleist. Six-time major championship winner Sir Nick Faldo has been among the most outspoken in suggesting that money has been put ahead of McIlroy’s golf game.
Faldo has been at pains to state that he is a fan of the Irishman but he feels the short term gain could be outweighed by the risks to his overall game. Faldo was well known for his meticulous attention to detail and is a great believer in the power of confidence. McIlroy already has a US Open and a US PGA to his name during his time with Titleist and clearly there has not been a lot wrong with their association. Faldo also questions the wisdom of signing for Nike, a brand well established as that of Tiger Woods. Faldo believes that McIlroy is perfectly placed to launch his own brand and does not need to be associated with “someone else’s brand”, especially that of the current World Number Two and the man most likely to push him for the top spot this season.
Rory McIlroy insists that the change of equipment will not damage his progress and points out that there really isn’t that much difference between the manufacturers. Whether that is down to his youthful confidence or a touch complacent, only time will tell. The 23-year-old did nothing to silence his critics when missing the cut badly in Abu Dhabi on his debut for the Nike stable. Of course it would be foolish to read too much into that but several of the other leading golfers have already signalled a return to form. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have both landed running with tour victories whilst Brandt Snedeker also gained reward for his consistency with a first tour win of the season. You can bet on Rory McIlroy to expect the likes of Luke Donald and Louis Oosthuizen to be chasing him for points this year.
McIlroy’s Nike deal has certainly drawn attention to his game in perhaps a way that he would not have wished. Every detail is recorded in the golfing press from the new heavier Nike putter to the change of shaft on his driver. It has often been said that staying at the top is harder than getting there and the young Irishman must already be feeling extra pressure. The world rankings points system means that he must at least match his tremendous 2012 season. Every tournament he enters will be gauged against his performance last year, giving rivals the opportunity to pick up points more readily.
There is no escape off the course either for McIlroy. You can media attention focusing on his relationship with Danish Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. The pair were forced to deny rumours of an engagement at the end of last year. McIlroy has said that the tennis player has been a great influence on him with her hard work and dedication to her sport. There has been media speculation that the reverse is true for Wozniacki and that her fall down the rankings is, at least in part, due to her relationship with the golfer.
Rory McIlroy will be eager to detach himself from the furore about his change of equipment as soon as possible with the US Masters at Augusta not that far away. He insists that his objectives remain simply to be the best player that he can be and to win more majors. Victory for Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open cut the gap in the official world rankings to within 3.14 average points. The worst years appear to be firmly behind Tiger as he goes in pursuit of the number one spot that he had made his own before his dramatic fall from grace. Woods seems entirely focused on winning tournaments this year and it could be quite a struggle for McIlroy to keep his new stable companion at bay.
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