McIlroy gambling with his future regarding new equipment?

By Rex HoggardOctober 30, 2012, 9:23 pm

In the world of mega-endorsement deals this one, at least in newsprint, is Alex Rodriguez – a blockbuster that defies market value and the status quo.

On Tuesday Titleist confirmed it was clearing the air and essentially giving Rory McIlroy an opportunity to take his considerable talents to Beaverton, Ore., home of the Nike empire that has reportedly been wooing the Ulsterman to the tune of a 10-year deal with $20 million a calendar.

For the Acushnet Co., the parent of Titleist, the move has a familiar MO. When Tiger Woods was rumored to be headed for Nike in the late 1990s the company released him early from his endorsement deal and did the same for Phil Mickelson when he signed with Callaway.


Photos: Golf's biggest breakups


“For Titleist to end the contract early is an incredibly intelligent decision,” said Casey Alexander, an analyst with Gilford Securities in New York. “If not, they would be paying a de facto contract for him to endorse Nike products.”

In short, that bridge had been burned. What remains in the void of the Rory sweepstakes is akin to business anarchy, a landscaped filled with questions and concerns and precious few facts.

If the reports are accurate, and there is little reason to think they are not, McIlroy’s marriage with the swoosh would create a powerful combination of the game’s top two endorsers playing for a single global brand. But to what end?

Nike Golf, for all its reach, is not the industry standard bearer when it comes to equipment. Never has been despite more than a decade of dominance by their franchise player Woods.

According to Golf Datatech, consider that Nike had 2.3 percent of the golf ball market share in 2000 when it signed Woods. In 2006 that number had jumped to 11.7 percent and has remained steady since (Nike currently has a 10.1 percent market share of the ball market). Although impressive, it is hardly the commanding presence one would expect.

“Nike could be spending a lot of money on the top two players right now and they suck at selling equipment,” Alexander said. “The apparel and footwear business is where they feel they have their edge.”

So if McIlroy’s reported deal isn’t about moving product – at least not big-ticket items like drivers and iron sets – that leaves only Nike’s brand association with the game’s best, whatever game that may be.

“Nike has always had the No. 1 players in every sport,” said one industry insider.

From Michael Jordan to Roger Federer and, yes, even Lance Armstrong, there is something to be said for being aligned with the best and that, at least fundamentally, seems to be the company’s motivation to pay McIlroy.

The down side, for both McIlroy and Nike, is a failed marriage. He’d hardly be the first Tour type to follow the money to a new bag only to see his game head in the opposite direction from his bank account.

“He has to be very cautious. It’s going to be a dangerous time,” six-time major champion Nick Faldo warned. “The equipment is part of your golf DNA. I would be really careful about that. He’s young and saying to himself he can adapt, but I promise you it will be different.”

Industry insiders estimate that McIlroy, like Woods, would have a “play in” period to adjust to his new equipment but that will mean little if he doesn’t play up to his ridiculously high standards early and often.

“What happens when a player makes an equipment change?” one industry observer asked. “All it takes is a little loss of confidence.”

There is also the question of complacency, or as one equipment representative once told me, “wealth doesn’t breed hunger.” Perhaps Woods’ greatest professional accomplishment, beyond the 74 Tour titles and 14 major championships, is that he was paid handsomely early in his career and yet maintained his competitive hunger.

With $20 million annually in the bank does McIlroy remain fixated on excellence? Given the standard he has set for himself it seems unlikely McIlroy would be impacted by such a large payday, but it is, nonetheless, part of the nuanced concerns when this kind of money is being tossed about.

There is also the question of how a potential Woods-McIlroy marketing campaign would unfold. Nike Golf, unlike Titleist – which markets the brand not the player – is personality driven. How then does the swoosh harmoniously weave together a campaign with a built-in personality disorder?

“When (Woods’) contract comes up and he feels like he’s played second fiddle what happens then?” Alexander asked. “It’s going to be fascinating to watch the interplay of this over the next few years.”

As one industry insider figured early Tuesday McIlroy’s potential move to Nike could be a “game changer,” for the Ulsterman and the industry.

Getty Images

Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

Getty Images

McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

Getty Images

Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

Getty Images

Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”