Most golf fans can probably think back to the days, September 2007 to be precise, when Rory McIlroy first turned professional. From day one he was touted as a future world number one but few would have guessed that five years, three months, 27 days and somewhere in the region of £27 million later he would be being, some would say realistically, compared to a young Tiger Woods.
Rory didn’t come racing out of the blocks in his first major championship a la Tiger but there was certainly something about the boy wonder from Northern Ireland; enough anyway to lead companies including Jumeirah Hotels, Bennett Construction, Lough Erne Resort, Footjoy and of course Titleist to invest a total of £1 million in him.
During the first few years of his career McIlroy flattered to deceive; often showing flashes of unrivalled brilliance – take his opening round of 63 at St Andrews in the 2010 Open Championship as an example – which were more often than not outweighed by play not becoming of one with so much talent. However since his much talked about US Masters meltdown Rory has found the gear that many predicted would elevate him to the pinnacle of the game.
His first major came at the 2011 US Open and it came in style as Rors won by a staggering 8 shots, breaking records galore along the way. That seemed to make him realise he had a lot more game than pretty much everyone else o the planet and the tour wins started to follow. By the 2012 Honda Classic McIlroy had become the youngest world number one since Tiger flipped the golfing world upside down and then came his second major championship. Kiawah Island was the scene and another 8 shot victory was the storyline. As if two major championships weren’t enough, McIlroy then went on to dominate the end of the season events on both the PGA and European Tours which lead to a money list double, the second in the history of the game.
Rolling into 2013 one thing was clear: Rory McIlroy is starting to fulfil his potential. All of this lead to an increase in the comparisons between him and Tiger and then the inevitable became obvious to all. Rory McIlroy would become the next torch bearer for Nike. Everyone knew it. McIlroy and Nike denied it. Until yesterday that is.
In the build up to the Abu Dhabi Golf Championships which kick off on Thursday – surprise surprise Rory and Tiger have been paired together for the opening two rounds – McIlroy was officially unveiled as a Nike staff player and although the exact details of the deal are not entirely clear; the numbers that are being bandied around are eye watering. $2oo million dollars over the course of the next 10 years sounds like a handsome reward for being a walking swoosh and never knowingly stepping in front of a camera without the world’s most famous tubby tick somewhere in frame, but it is not all that Rors will bank should his current form continue.
Bonuses for winning further major championships, as well as bonuses for staying at the top of the golf world rankings, or recapturing top spot should someone else catch him, will also swell the 23 year old’s bank balance to the point of popping. Clearly then, Nike are under the impression that he is worth the money. After all, Tiger is now only on half of what McIlroy is earning from Nike and, considering the impact he had on the sport, it is clear that the American sports brand think McIlroy is the real deal and not merely a caretaker to Tiger’s throne.
It is interesting then that research conducted by a US firm suggests that, despite his damaged image following you know what in 2009, Tiger delivered more bang for Nike’s buck than the equivalent return seen by McIlroy’s sponsors. The sports marketing firm Reputom estimated that Woods’ play in 2012 banked just shy of $19 million dollars and, despite the fact that McIlroy outperformed his idol, especially at the business end of the season, his various sponsors only banked a paltry $12 million.
The figures are there then, to suggest that Woods should still be Nike’s top earner but then there is always the question of how each player is perceived by the golfing public and indeed how much staying power each player has. After all, Tiger is knocking on the door of 40 while Rory is still the right side of 25 but the biggest questions are ones that not even Nike can answer until the proof is in the proverbial pudding. Which player will be the standout player in 2013 and will their media driven “rivalry” ever really take off?
One thing is for sure as far as we at Your Golf Travel are concerned; it will be fun watching and waiting to find out and it all kicks off on Thursday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Well…that’s not entirely true…it actually all kicked off on a secret film set when Rory’s new employers got him and the Tiger together for their first commercial engagement as Nike stable mates. Check out the results below…