Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rory McIlroy joins Tiger Woods on Team Nike

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are on the same team now, at least when it comes to sponsorship.

McIlroy officially made the switch to the swoosh on Monday as Nike confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in golf, announcing it had signed a multi­year deal with the top-ranked Northern Irishman.

Terms were not disclosed, but industry observers have estimated the deal to be worth up to $20 million a year. Some reports said the agreement was for 10 years and worth as much as $200 million, including incentives, which would be one of the most lucrative in sports history. However, those numbers might be inflated. ESPN reported that McIlroy's deal is for five years, which might be more realistic considering Woods never got 10 years.

McIlroy, 23, insisted he's not making the switch because of the money.

"I don't play golf for the money," he said. "I am well past that. I'm a major champion and world No. 1, which I have always dreamed of being, and feel this is a company that can help me sustain that and win even more major titles. At the end of 2013, if I have not won another major, I will be disappointed."

The deal means Nike now has golf's two biggest names representing its brand, as Woods has been with the company since turning pro in 1996.

The partnership with McIlroy was announced in a lavish ceremony in the United Arab Emirates ahead of this week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, where he will use the company's equipment for the first time. The event opened with a hologram of McIlroy swinging a club and included a video showing Woods, Roger Federer and Wayne Rooney welcoming him to Nike.

McIlroy said he was "really excited" to start the season and insisted he has made a "seamless" adjustment to his new equipment, especially his driver.

"As soon as I hit it, I knew it was going in the bag straight away," he said. "I thought I hit it far before, but this is taking it to a new level."

McIlroy's switch to Nike had been widely expected. In October, he cut ties with Acushnet Co., which had supplied him with Titleist and FootJoy gear since he turned pro five years ago. And this month, Jumeirah Group announced it was not renewing its five-year sponsorship deal.

The Nike deal comes in the wake of a career year for McIlroy, in which he became No. 1 and won his second major.

McIlroy and Woods have already developed a friendly rivalry lately, and they will likely be seen together even more often from now on.

Nike already unveiled a new commercial entitled "No Cup is Safe" that begins running Wednesday featuring McIlroy and Woods on the driving range — with each trying to outdo the other in sort of a golf version of the basketball game H-O-R-S-E.

McIlroy told ESPN after the festivities that Woods never tried to recruit him to Nike, nor did McIlroy seek his advice.

"I didn't speak about it to Tiger," McIlroy said. "I didn't say anything, and I don't think he wanted to influence me, either. We didn't talk about it at all — not until after it was all done.

"I was comfortable with what I was doing. I talked to the people who were closest to me about it."