McIlroy moving into area once dominated by Woods

By Randall MellNovember 8, 2012, 4:31 pm

Rory McIlroy is about to hit the jackpot.

With news of McIlroy’s mega endorsement deal with Nike expected to become official shortly, a deal reportedly worth more than $200 million over 10 years, the 23-year-old rising star from Northern Ireland pushes farther onto a stage Tiger Woods once dominated.

McIlroy isn’t just crowding Woods’ work space with his two record-setting major championship runaways the last two years and with his rise to No. 1 in the world, he’s now barging into the premium marketing space that Woods once ruled over as the game’s most valuable commodity.

It’s another sign that McIlroy is poised to become a true rival to Woods.

McIlroy’s potential allegiance with Nike spawns a lot of questions about how the game’s landscape may be changing. How will the switch from Titleist to Nike affect McIlroy’s game? Will there be a drop off as McIlroy acclimates himself to new equipment? How will the transition affect his confidence? How will all that money affect his desire?

But the most important question may not be about McIlroy at all.

How would this new deal affect Woods?

When reports first emerged that McIlroy was preparing to join Nike, speculation followed that the move wouldn't be good for Woods. The Chicago Sun-Times ran this headline with a story last week: “Rory McIlroy poses big threat to Tiger Woods with move to Nike.” The story’s analysis laid out the potential move this way: “Besides passing Woods in the world golf rankings, McIlroy is threatening to take away Tiger’s death grip on Nike.”

That, however, isn’t necessarily the way industry analysts see the Nike dynamic unfolding.

More than one sports marketplace expert sees Woods ultimately winning something valuable in this, too.

“It’s a positive rub for Rory, Tiger and Nike,” says Bill Marshall, president of South Florida-based Team Marketing. “Tiger Woods is still the cornerstone of golf, regardless who Nike signs. He is still the Empire State Building in the city of golf. Whether you love Tiger or hate him, he still moves the needle in golf like no one else. He is still Nike, there’s no question about that, and the fact that Nike is enhancing its talent pool is complementary to Tiger. In appearing to be the future of golf, McIlroy is a good choice to complement Tiger.”

Industry analysts expect Nike to build on an emerging dynamic relationship between Woods and McIlroy that will serve Woods’ interests as his image continues to evolve in the marketplace.

“In many respects, this is a slow passing of the torch,” says Scott Becher, executive vice president of Z Sports & Entertainment, a division of Zimmerman Advertising. “Rory helps contemporize Nike in reaching a younger golf audience, but he can also, if used together with Tiger, help soften Tiger’s image for Nike.”

McIlroy ranks very high in likeability in the measurement of Q Scores, a metric that Marketing Evaluations Inc. developed to measure target audience reactions to athletes, celebrities, brands and licensed properties. Basically, Q Scores rank awareness and appeal based on surveys.

News that Nike has already teamed Woods and McIlroy together in a commercial to air next year points to a strategy that is lauded by industry experts contacted by GolfChannel.com. They like the charisma these two players create together.

“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” says Rick Horrow, CEO of Horrow Sports Ventures and sports business analyst for Fox Sports and CNN. “For Rory, it’s an acknowledgment that he is the next great thing. For Tiger, he may get a likeability bump by being affiliated with a positive personality in a playful, human way.”

In his life post-scandal, Woods has become a polarizing figure in the marketplace, a phenomenon that continues to evolve. Though all you have to do is scroll down to reader comments on any web story about Woods to see just how polarizing he is, Q Scores measure the phenomenon.

Before crashing his SUV into his neighbor’s yard near the end of 2009, Woods garnered a 44 Q Score.

“His Q Score was the strongest among active athletes, by far,” says Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Marketing Evaluations. “He was just behind the iconic Michael Jordan, who with a Q Score of 50 still has ridiculously high scores in retirement.”

Today, Woods’ primary Q score today is 24, still the highest among active golfers. McIlroy’s primary Q Score is 17, third among active golfers behind Mickelson (23) and Woods.

Notably, Woods’ negative Q Score, a measurement of the negative assessment fans have toward him, climbed after the scandal from 15 – favorably below average – to 39, by far the highest negative reaction among golfers.

Basically, Woods’ scores show people have a strong reaction to him, one way or another.

“Tiger, despite his woes on and off the course, remains popular, but he also is still a very polarizing figure today,” Schafer said. “His negative Q Score assessment has been higher than his positive for a long time now. That’s what is holding him back in the marketplace.”

But that’s where Nike’s Tiger/Rory packaging can benefit both players.

“Where Tiger may get a trustworthiness bump, Rory gets an awareness bump,” Horrow said.

Woods is a household name, known around the world by folks who don’t know a birdie from a bogey. McIlroy doesn’t cross over like that yet.

“Without Tiger, there is no interest in golf, in terms of viewer interest,” Schafer said.

Partnered with Woods in Nike commercials, McIlroy can reach a broader audience.

“I have to think Nike will use them together, and that they will be interacting with each other,” Becher said. “That is one plus one equals three for Nike.”

That formula would depend on continuing good chemistry between Woods and McIlroy, and also on their ability to continue to push each other competitively as the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world.

“Nike has laid this out and thought it over very intelligently,” says Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor who specializes in sports at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. “There’s a synergy between these two players. At this point, they help each other. I’m sure their handlers have very carefully figured this out. It’s not by accident that this is going on. I’m sure a lot of time was spent figuring out exactly how to do this.”

The McIlroy-Woods friendship is part of a transition in Woods’ public persona this last year. There have been glimpses of an evolving man that doesn’t go undetected by a discriminating sports marketplace.

While skeptics may now see ulterior motives for Woods befriending McIlroy, the appearance of genuine mutual admiration helps shape Woods’ image. So does Woods appearing more open and engaging with fellow tour pros.

South Africa’s Branden Grace, nervously playing for the first time with Woods through the first three rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone in August, raved about the experience. “Tiger is pretty much the nicest guy I’ve ever played with,” Grace said. At the PGA Championship, Woods stunned long-time observers saying he tried to lighten up while paired with Vijay Singh. At Medinah, Woods didn’t just say he took responsibility for American Ryder Cup failures before the competition began, he apologized to American rookies for failing them when it was over.

Woods’ image, integral to his marketability, still comes with challenges.

Woods came off as narcissistic, arrogant, cheap, cold and entitled in portions of Hank Haney’s book “The Big Miss,” though he also came off as admirably determined and dedicated to excellence. There was an edgy interaction over questions about Haney’s book at The Honda Classic, but, overall, Woods is consistently professional in his media encounters.

The McIlroy-Woods Nike union is seen by experts as potentially another positive step in the evolution of Woods as he moves into the second phase of his career.

“It is beneficial for Tiger Woods,” Zimbalist says. “If you were asking me about this Nike deal five years ago, I would be scratching my head and asking, `Why would Tiger Woods want to share the stage?’ But because of what happened in his personal life, with his golf game not being what it was, Tiger fell off the stage. This is an opportunity for Tiger, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I also think it is part of the image he is trying to create since he came out of the hospital after the accident.

“At this point, it’s fair to say Tiger is past his peak. That is not to say he’s going to decline rapidly, but his period of ascendance and domination is not what it used to be. To have somebody who is rising up, somebody who is not only a tremendous competitor, like Rory McIlroy, but somebody who is good-looking and has charisma and appeal, for Tiger to be able to hook his wagon up to McIlroy, that’s a positive for Tiger.”

Zimbalist believes Woods will look good sharing a stage with McIlroy.

“If part of his image now, instead of standing by himself and promoting Nike products, if it’s doing it with somebody else by his side, that is portraying a Tiger who is now more relationally oriented,” Zimbalist said.

That makes Woods a different man in the marketplace.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.