McIlroy signs mega-bucks Nike deal
Rory McIlroy insisted major titles matter more than money after taking a massive step towards becoming one of the biggest earners in sporting history.
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As expected, McIlroy has signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike and although details of the deal were not revealed, it has been widely reported to be a 10-year contract worth as much as £150million if the world number one, previously with Titleist, goes on winning majors.
The 23-year-old from Northern Ireland will use Nike's full range of equipment, with the clubs in competitive action for the first time in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship later this week against a field including the other leading golf name in Nike colours, 14-major winner and world number two Tiger Woods.
And despite concerns expressed by the likes of Nick Faldo about the change of clubs, McIlroy is firmly focused on quickly adding to his two major titles.
"I don't play golf for the money, I am well past that," McIlroy told a press conference in Abu Dhabi.
"I'm a major champion and world number one, 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."
Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf, refused to discuss details of McIlroy's contract, including whether there were any "behaviour" clauses given previous problems with Nike athletes Woods and Lance Armstrong.
But she added: "Rory is an extraordinary athlete who creates enormous excitement with his on-course performance while, at the same time, connecting with fans everywhere.
"He is the epitome of a Nike athlete and he is joining our team during the most exciting time in Nike Golf's history. We are looking forward to partnering with him to take his remarkable career to the next level."
McIlroy, a boy wonder who was the world under-10 champion in 1998, turned professional in 2007, two months after finishing as the leading amateur in The Open at Carnoustie.
Only 18 at the time, he finished third in the Dunhill Links at St Andrews on just his second start in the paid ranks, but had to wait until the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic for his first victory.
Perhaps amazingly, he has still to win on European soil, all his successes since coming in America (five, including two majors), Asia (two) or back in the Middle East - he finished last season with five birdies in a row to lift the DP World Tour title in Dubai.
It was the 2011 US Masters that put him on a new level in terms of fame and popularity.
McIlroy led by four with a round to play and was still out in front at the turn, but in an horrific back-nine meltdown he crashed to an 80 and ended up in only 15th place, 10 shots behind winner Charl Schwartzel.
The sporting world waited to see how long the mental scars would last, and got their answer two months later when he won the US Open by eight shots.
At just 22 he was the youngest winner of the title since Bobby Jones in 1923. A superstar was born.
"If you are going to talk about someone challenging the record of Jack Nicklaus there's your man," said Padraig Harrington, referring to the Golden Bear's 18 majors.
"At his age he's probably got 100 more majors where he could be competitive. It would give him a great chance."
Told of the Dubliner's comment and aware of the expectation it would lead to, McIlroy sighed: "Oh, Paddy, Paddy, Paddy."
But he has a second major already and it was again achieved by a runaway eight-shot margin at the USPGA Championship last August.
It took him back to the world number one spot he had been fighting Luke Donald for most of the year, but with three more tournament victories since then he is now way out at the top of the rankings.
With Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki his partner for the past 18 months, McIlroy's celebrity status has grown even more.
Having changed girlfriends, McIlroy then changed managers 14 months ago, leaving the same stable as Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke to join Dublin-based Horizon Sports.
His close friend Graeme McDowell had been the leading client on their books, but now, of course, McIlroy is in a league of his own.
In demand the world over, he has had to learn the art of saying "No" at times, but was unlikely to do that when Nike made their approach.
Although Faldo has questioned the decision to switch from Titleist, McIlroy said in November: "I think all the manufacturers make great equipment nowadays and it's all very similar.
"A lot of them get their clubs made at the same factories. I don't think it will make any difference.
"I've started the process of trying a few new things. I've tinkered about a little bit with the new ones, enough to feel comfortable going into next season."
That season is now here and for McIlroy it starts in the desert on Thursday.
Rory McIlroy factfile:
1989: Born on May 4 in Holywood, Northern Ireland.
2005: Plays in his first professional European Tour event as a 16-year-old at The Forest of Arden. In July, shoots a course-record 61 on the Dunluce links at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
2007: May - Makes the cut in a European Tour event for the first time at the Dubai Desert Classic.
July - Shoots opening round of 68 in The Open Championship at Carnoustie, the only bogey-free round of the day. Goes on to tie for 42nd position and wins Silver Medal as leading amateur.
September 18 - Turns professional.
October - Finishes third in his second pro event, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The following week, he secures his card for the 2008 season by finishing in a tie for fourth place at the Open de Madrid.
2008: September 7 - Takes a four-shot lead into the final round at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland but bogeys the 18th to tie with Jean-Francois Lucquin, who goes on to win in a play-off. Finishes the season in the top 100 of the world rankings and ranked 36th on the European Tour Order of Merit.
November - Finishes second in the UBS Hong Kong Open, helping him attain his highest world ranking position of 50, making him the youngest player ever to make the top 50.
2009: February 1 - Wins first professional title at the Dubai Desert Classic by one shot from Justin Rose.
April - Plays his first major as a professional at the US Masters, finishing in a tie for 20th.
June - Makes his US Open debut and impresses, finishing 10th.
July - Plays in first Open Championship as a professional, finishing tied 47th.
August - Achieves his best finish in a major to date, tied third at the US PGA Championship.
November - After finishing second to Lee Westwood in the Race to Dubai, enters the world's top 10 for the first time.
2010: May 2 - Secures first PGA Tour win with victory in the Quail Hollow Championship. His final-round 62 is a new course record. Becomes the first player since Tiger Woods to triumph on the PGA Tour prior to his 21st birthday.
July 15 - Shoots a nine-under-par 63 on the opening day at St Andrews to lead The Open. Rounds of 80, 68 and 69 see him end the tournament tied for third to rise to seventh in the world.
August 15 - Ties for third in the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
October 4 - Wins a crucial half point against Stewart Cink to help Europe win the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.
2011: April 10 - Takes four-shot lead into final round of the Masters at Augusta but shoots eight-over-par final round of 80 to finish tied 15th.
June 19 - Wins US Open at Congressional by eight shots for his first major title.
2012: March 4 - Wins the Honda Classic in Florida to claim the world number one ranking, although he later loses it to Luke Donald.
June - Misses the cut in the defence of his US Open title. Finishes a lowly 60th in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham the following month.
August 12 - Lands the US PGA title at Kiawah Island, finishing on 13 under par to win by eight strokes.
September 3 - Beats Louis Oosthuizen to the Deutsche Bank Championship in Massachusetts to rise to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
September 30 - Having almost missed his match with Keegan Bradley due to a timekeeping issue, McIlroy beats Bradley as Europe recover from 10-6 behind on the final day to win the Ryder Cup at Medinah.
October/November - Second place at the BMW Masters in Shanghai is followed by third place at the Barclays Singapore Open as McIlroy wins the Race to Dubai with two events remaining.
November 25 - Wins the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, beating Justin Rose by two shots after five closing birdies.
2013: January 14 - Signs a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike, reportedly worth up to £156million.