Imagine Golf Blogs

McIlroy struggles with new Nike clubs

Tiger and Rory both fail to excel in Abu Dhabi

Posted Jan 22, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece


For the discerning fan of tournament golf, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship seemed to provide no shortage of spectacle in delightful sunshine beside the Gulf.  There was Rory McIlroy, struggling manfully with his new, malfunctioning Nike clubs to the point where he simply couldn’t match the decidedly moderate target of a two-over-par cut.

There was speculation that he and Tiger Woods were there because each of them got $2 million each in appearance money.  Given that McIlroy is now taking another month off from competitive golf, however, my feeling is that it wasn’t the cash which had him there, attractive and all as it is.  It was Nike’s anxiety to get their new contract with him up and running in Woods’s company at a suitably attractive venue, early in the year.

Woods, meanwhile, also made a premature departure but for an entirely different reason.  In his case it was the discovery that the soil he felt entitled to take relief from when his ball became embedded on the fifth hole, was, in fact, sand, from which there was no relief.  With the post round imposition of a two-stroke penalty, he, too, was outside the target.

Then, in Sunday’s final round, we had the sight of David Howell, everybody’s favourite struggler, four-putting from no more than four feet by way of proving that the 13th can, in fact, be unlucky for some.   And when overnight leader, Justin Rose, looked like he might coast to another desert victory, he was overtaken by Jamie Donaldson who captured the title on 14 under par. 

Keep knocking, they say, and the door will eventually open.  It did for Donaldson in his 12th year on tour last June, when he captured the Irish Open at Royal Portrush.  This time, it was predictably less stressful, though he appeared to make life difficult for himself when  bogeying the long 18th in the second-last pairing of the day.

As a brief sample of what the public saw, most would agree that this represented decent value for money.  The really interesting stuff, however, took place behind closed doors.

Paul Casey, a Nike stablemate of McIlroy’s, talked of the very significant technical presence of men and equipment back-up which accompanied McIlroy’s induction into the brand, at a reported fee of €190 million over five years.  So you can imagine the tearing of hair and frowns of frustration as club and ball failed to follow the bidding of the world number one.  Indeed the ultimate indignity must have been the player’s decision to replace the new Nike putter with an old model of his own, for the second round on Friday.

Earlier in the week, however, other closed doors hid from public view the machinations of the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, the kingmakers in the choice of Ryder Cup captain for Gleneagles in 2014.  A unanimous decision, is how their deliberations were described afterwards.  But when committee chairman, Thomas Bjorn, was asked perhaps a little mischievously if he could give us any idea of what the numbers were in favour of Paul McGinley, he replied testily: “Unanimously means everybody.  No?”

Though the response was met with laughter at the time, the main topic of conversation among attending scribes over the ensuing days, was just now lacking in unanimity were those deliberations. In other words, it seems simply inconceivable to trained observers that all could have been accomplished as smoothly as Bjorn would have had us believe.

Apparently there was a pact among the committee’s members that what was said in that historic room in the St Regis Hotel, would remain in the room.  And I’ve no doubt every member sincerely meant it at the time. 

Equally, however, I have no doubt that given the passage of a few weeks, little crumbs of information will begin to emerge.  And they will continue to emerge until such time as we have sufficient information to squeeze together into a fascinating little cake.

In this context, I’m not pretending to know more than any other observer. George O’Grady, chief executive of the European Tour, pointed out afterwards that democracy worked.  This could be interpreted as indicating the choice of McGinley by a majority voice.  It certainly leaves plenty of room for scepticism about the projected image of bosom-buddy pals, all singing from the same hymn-sheet.

- Dermot Gilleece

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