Titleist, McIlroy won't renew contract after this year

By Doug FergusonOctober 30, 2012, 12:07 pm

Rory McIlroy is officially a free agent when it comes to golf equipment.

McIlroy and Acushnet Co., which has supplied the 23-year-old star from Northern Ireland with Titleist and FootJoy gear since he turned pro five years ago, said Tuesday they will not extend their relationship after this year.

The announcement allows McIlroy to pursue a lucrative endorsement contract, with strong indications that he will sign with Nike in a deal that one industry observer estimated at $20 million a year. That would give Nike golf's two biggest stars in McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who has been with the swoosh since he turned pro in 1996.


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McIlroy has established himself as the No. 1 player in the world this year, when he won four times and captured the PGA Championship at Kiawah, giving him eight-shot wins in two major championships. He won the PGA Tour money title, and is closing in on winning the European Tour money title.

This is the second time in the last 10 years that Acushnet, which has a history of fiscal prudence, has not stood in the way of a No. 1 player going after big money. Woods, who had an equipment deal with Titleist when he turned pro, left for the Nike golf ball in 2000 and then the Nike golf clubs in 2002.

Phil Mickelson won his first Masters with Titleist in 2004, and the Fairhaven, Mass., company let him out of his contract later that summer to sign a lucrative deal with Callaway.

''Our goal has been to provide Rory with the best equipment and service that would help him be the best player he could possibly be,'' Acushnet chief executive Wally Uihlein said in a statement. ''He has been a great ambassador for the Titleist and FootJoy brands, and in turn, we are proud of how our equipment has contributed to his success. We wish Rory all the best, both personally and professionally, going forward.''

McIlroy, who defeated Woods in an 18-hole exhibition in China on Monday, thanked the Acushnet staff for ''five very exciting and successful years.''

''I will always appreciate the contribution Titleist has made in helping me become the player I am today,'' McIlroy said.

Not since Woods has a player had this much potential at such a young age. McIlroy was 19 when he won the Dubai Desert Classic for his first win as a pro, and he followed that with a 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow for his first PGA Tour win.

McIlroy shattered U.S. Open scoring records last summer at Congressional to win by eight shots, and when he won his second major at Kiawah Island in August, he became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 with two majors. Only five players have won majors by at least eight shots since 1976 - three by Woods, two by McIlroy.

They have become friends in recent months. They were in the same group five times during the FedEx Cup playoffs, and the conversation came easily. That led to the 18-hole exhibition on Monday, the first time Woods has agreed to a head-to-head match since the old ''Battle at Bighorn'' days against Sergio Garcia.

McIlroy won by one. Walking off the fourth hole, McIlroy even took one of Woods' Nike clubs and took a few practice swings.

Now, it appears likely both will be using the same equipment next year.

''We are declining comment on rumors and speculation,'' Nike spokeswoman Beth Gast said.

McIlroy is not playing the HSBC Champions this week in China. He will close out his European Tour season starting the following week with the Singapore Open, the Hong Kong Open and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He would have two months until his next tournament in Abu Dhabi, giving him time to test new equipment.

McIlroy has gone through a series of changes since winning his first major last summer at Congressional. He left agent Chubby Chandler a year ago and signed with Conor Ridge of Irish-based Horizon Sports Management. He took up membership on the PGA Tour, where he is a lock to be voted player of the year. Changing the very tools he uses will be the biggest change of all.

Still to be determined is how any deal with Nike would affect the rest of McIlroy's deals. He has endorsements with Jumeirah Estates, Oakley, Audemares Piguet and Santander bank. Nike typically prefers a clean look for its athletes, with rare exception. Woods and Anthony Kim had separate endorsements for their golf bags.

Even as McIlroy was getting courted by other companies, Titleist did not put up a big fight. The company has a history of putting the brand before the player, as it did with Woods, Mickelson, David Duval after he reached No. 1 in the world and Sergio Garcia.

It prides itself on having the most tour players use its golf ball, though it also has some 80 players around the world under contract to use its golf balls and golf clubs. This year might have been particularly costly, however, especially with incentive clauses in the contracts. It had six players from the top 16 in the world as full staff players – McIlroy, Adam Scott, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Steve Stricker and Nick Watney.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.