Rory McIlroy is hitting the free-agent market.
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman and Acushnet Co. (Titleist/FootJoy) said in a release Tuesday that they will part ways after this season, meaning McIlroy is free to pursue a more lucrative deal with another company.
That opens the door for Nike, which reportedly is expected to sign McIlroy to a 10-year deal worth upwards of $20 million per year. A company spokesman told GolfChannel.com last week that they will not discuss rumors or speculation.
Nike has always aggressively pursued the most dominant player in a sport, and signing McIlroy, the world No. 1, would give the swoosh the two biggest names in golf. Tiger Woods has been with the company since he turned pro in 1996, though he only began using Nike clubs in 2002.
McIlroy and Woods have struck up a friendship in recent months, after their frequent pairings in the FedEx Cup playoffs. On Monday, they even squared off in a one-on-one exhibition in China, dubbed the Duel at Jinsha Lake. At one point, McIlroy was caught on camera swinging one of Woods’ Nike clubs while walking off the fourth tee.
Wally Uihlein, the chief executive for Acushnet, said in a statement, “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. 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.”
In the same statement, McIlroy, who has been with the company since he turned pro five years ago, thanked Acushnet for “helping me become the player I am today.”