With speculation swirling that he already has one FootJoyed tootsie out the door, Rory McIlroy declined Tuesday to deny he would leave Titleist for a megabucks deal with Tiger Woods’ deep-pocketed sponsor, Nike.
“These rumors have been going around for years and it seems to always come up at this time of the year,” McIlroy told reporters from Shanghai where he will play in this week’s BMW Masters at Lake Malaren Golf Club.
“I leave it up to Conor [Ridge, McIlroy’s manager] to sort out as it leaves me to concentrate on my golf,” said McIlroy about an Irish Times report that the world No. 1 would sign a 10-year, $250 million contract with Nike after his pact with Acushnet Co., the Massachusetts-based parent company of Titleist/FootJoy, expires at the end of 2012. “That’s all I can do and besides I have enough to think about trying to get the ball in the hole.
“Also,” added McIlroy, who hopes to secure the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours with strong performances in four Race to Dubai events he’ll play before the end of the year, “I’ve got a very important end to my season coming up and I need to concentrate myself fully on that goal.”
McIlroy may have his sights set on matching Luke Donald’s 2011 feat of earning the most cash on the course on both sides of the Atlantic. But that won’t stop oddsmakers from speculating about the heavyweight marketing campaign Nike could mount with the one-two punch of top-ranked McIlroy and No. 2 Woods in the same ring.
Indeed, the friendly rivalry that the BFFs initiated over the past year will culminate in a toe-to-toe “Duel at Jinsha Lake” in China on Monday.
“That should be really exciting and I’m really looking forward to heading back to Lake Jinsha,” McIlroy said about the 18-hole stroke-play event that’s reminiscent of the 1999 made-for-TV “Shootout at Sherwood” between Woods and that year’s pseudo rival, David Duval.
With Woods back in the winner’s circle three times this year and McIlroy capturing his second major championship in August, encounters between the world’s best would appear to have far greater potential than the Woods-Duval back-and-forth that never really materialized. For sure, what McIlroy observed about the upcoming China showdown had to have the suits in Beaverton seeing dollar signs for the 2013 season and many years beyond.
“I’ve spoken to Tiger about it and we are both really excited as it will be the first time we will ever do something like this together, and hopefully the first of a few occasions we can do this,” said Woods’ heir apparent. “We both enjoy each other’s company, and besides, there are not many guys I would do something like this with and I know he feels the same. So it should work well.”
If Nike execs had any doubt about what a Tiger-Rory match-up might mean at the checkout counter (and Nike and Titleist spokespersons declined to comment on the young Northern Irishman’s free agency), McIlroy made sure to remind them.
“I see it also as a good marketing exercise for Tiger and myself,” said the two-time major champ SportsProMedia tapped earlier this year as the second most marketable athlete in the world.