Rory McIlroy made the step from golf star to household name in 2012 (Image |

Rory McIlroy made the step from golf star to household name in 2012 (Image |

It’s been a busy couple of days for Rory McIlroy. When he’s not out on the course living up to his world number one ranking, the Northern Irishman keeps himself busy – most recently with newspaper interviews and colossal sponsorship deals.

He’ll probably be glad to know that what he says, and who he signs with, now makes global sports news.

After winning the PGA Championship and Race to Dubai (among others) in 2012, and topping the PGA Tour money lists, McIlroy swept up a clutch of awards for his 2012 performances, including PGA and PGA Tour Player of the Year. The best was still to come, however, as this week the 23-year-old signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with Nike worth up to a reported $150m.

You might expect such a move, in which McIlroy will use not just Nike-branded clothing but also golfing equipment, moving away from the Titleist clubs he has used since turning professional, to rile the man long seen as the face of Nike’s golf presence. But Tiger Woods not only acknowledged McIlroy’s arrival, saying the Northern Iirishman had “come to our Nike family”, the 37-year-old spoke positively and at length about his friendship with McIlroy.

“We’ve certainly hit it off,” Woods said in Abu Dhabi when questioned about McIlroy’s move to Nike. “It’s been a big switch for him [and] I’ve kind of been there and understand it. Our relationship has grown and our friendship has got better.”

Woods’ words sound strange coming from a man who might weel be talking about the rival who will soon replace him as the face of world golf. McIlroy was ranked ahead of Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and LeBron James in a May 2012 marketability study by British marketing magazine SportsPro (Neymar was top) and the quality of his golf suggests the younger man is in the ascendancy. Is Woods grasping at some upwardly-mobile coattails? Surely that would be a harsh assessment, but the American’s career remodel could use a boost from his new Nike ‘brother’.

Almost at the same time as Woods was singing his praises, McIlroy found more cause to celebrate. Following the world number one’s intervention into the European Ryder Cup captaincy debate yesterday, McIlroy got his man as Paul McGinley was selected to lead the team to Gleneagles in 2014, over 2010 captain Colin Montgomerie.

Paul McGinley, who captained a young Rory McIlroy at the 2009 Seve Trophy (above), will do so again in the 2014 Ryder  Cup (Image | Getty)

Paul McGinley, who captained a young Rory McIlroy at the 2009 Seve Trophy (above), will do so again in the 2014 Ryder Cup (Image | Getty)

McIlroy had been vocal about the Ryder Cup captaincy being a one-time deal. He staunchly believes that “everybody deserving should get their chance and then move on” – and it seems his words held sway with the European Tour, who elected to follow the leader rather than going with the more experienced Montgomerie.

In his defence, it’s not as if McGinley is inexperienced. He captained a victorious Great Britain & Ireland team including McIlroy in the 2009 Seve Trophy and is a five-time winner of the Ryder Cup, three times as a player and twice as a non-playing vice-captain.

Without doubt there is pedigree there, and McGinley has served his apprenticeship under Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 2012, and was seen as the obvious choice before Montgomerie’s name began to surface in recent weeks.

A fellow Irishman, McGinley holds McIlroy’s deepest respect, and the 46-year-old may have that to thank for the opportunity he will have at Gleneagles. Although the point McIlroy makes is understandable, and there are enough golfers of McGinley’s generation to justify a ‘once-only’ leadership selection, one has to wonder whether Montgomerie’s more favourable playing record in recent years (he is still an outside shot to make a Ryder Cup wildcard spot, unlike McGinley) may have counted against him.

Whatever the reason, though, it will be McGinley leading Europe’s dominant force in eighteen months’ time, where they will seek to make it eight wins out of ten against the reeling Americans. One can be certain that McIlroy will be there. Woods’ future is less certain.

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