Nike deal puts McIlroy under microscope

By Rex HoggardJanuary 14, 2013, 8:22 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It seems about right Nike Golf and Rory McIlroy would have chosen this corner of the Middle East to tell the world what we have known for months – the Swoosh wants to be in the Rory business.

Unlike Dubai to the east, which became the center of Arab opulence in recent years and seems to have embraced sprawl and style or substance and sustainable growth, Abu Dhabi has deftly found a way to embrace old and new.

Let’s hope Rory and Nike have the same touch, because these mega-marriages rarely go to script.

Although estimates have been dramatically toned down since initial reports suggested the Beaverton, Ore.-based company was poised to sign the world No. 1 to a 10-year, $250 million endorsement deal – with various reports following Monday’s announcement suggesting the deal is closer to five years. Nike didn’t announce the terms of the signing.

What's in the Bag: McIlroy's Nike equipment

Video: Tiger-Rory Nike commercial

Photos: McIlroy through the years

Either way it is clear the Swoosh is all in for the Northern Irishman.

With a commercial featuring McIlroy and world No. 2 Tiger Woods set to debut on Wednesday on Golf Channel and ESPN it’s clear Nike, as it does in other sports, plans to capitalize on having the game’s alpha and omega under a single roof.

Seamlessly weaving two divergent personalities, and not roughing up any egos in the process, will be Nike’s biggest challenge, but there is an army of marketing types to climb that mountain.

The real challenge, the real concern if any exists, rests with the 23-year-old wunderkind and his ability to transition to a new set of Nike clubs. Beginning with this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship all 14 of the Ulsterman’s clubs will bear the company logo and, perhaps more importantly, he will play the Nike 20XI X golf ball.

By comparison it took Woods the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike toys, with the last step coming at the 2010 British Open when he finally converted to a Method putter.

For McIlroy there will be no 10-year grace period, no safety net and, as far as the worldwide media is concerned, very little latitude.

As unrealistic as it may seem, if McIlroy doesn’t match his success of the last two seasons – including major victories in both – he will be questioned for making such a dramatic jump so early in his career.

“He has to be cautious. This is a very dangerous time,” cautioned Nick Faldo late last year as news built of the impending blockbuster. “Equipment is part of your DNA. The feel of them, how they sound, everything is about feel. I’d be really careful about that.”

On Monday in Abu Dhabi McIlroy said all the right things and given his performance over the past few years he deserves the benefit of the doubt and then some.

“To be honest, I’ve been blown away by the attention to detail when it comes to product (at Nike),” said McIlroy, who reportedly won’t carry a Nike golf bag. “Nike Golf is clearly committed to being the best and that gives me a lot of confidence in what we can achieve together on the golf course.”

Those who suggest the Ulsterman is in the midst of a money grab may also want to take a breath. You don’t get to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking trying to cash a check and if his jump from International Sports Management to Horizon Sports in late 2011 was any indication he seems to be more big picture than we often give him credit for.

Still, the game’s trash bin is filled with well intentioned decisions. Graeme McDowell, who has become something of a mentor for McIlroy on Tour, readily admitted that he struggled in 2011 after making a wholesale equipment change following his U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach.

Late last year after he’d earned his Tour card at Q-School Ross Fisher revealed he’d suffered a similar fate when he switched, like McIlroy, from Titleist to Nike Golf last January.

“It took me some time to become comfortable with the new clubs,” the Englishman said. “I feel comfortable with everything in the bag now, but it does take some time.”

Although Fisher’s comments weren’t directed at McIlroy, truth is the Ulsterman’s name never came up in the conversation, but his is a cautionary tale that seemed to loom over Monday’s proceedings at the posh Fairmont hotel.

Whether it’s fair or not, McIlroy, and Nike Golf, are officially on the clock. Officially on the hook to do what they’ve done so well in Abu Dhabi, mesh old and new together without making a mess.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."