McIlroy is not playing the HSBC Champions this week in China. He will close out his European Tour season starting the following week with the Singapore Open, the Hong Kong Open and the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. He would have two months until his next tournament in Abu Dhabi, giving him time to test new equipment.
McIlroy has gone through a series of changes since winning his first major last summer at Congressional. He left agent Chubby Chandler a year ago and signed with Conor Ridge of Irish-based Horizon Sports Management. He took up membership on the PGA Tour, where he is a lock to be voted player of the year. Changing the very tools he uses will be the biggest change of all.
Still to be determined is how any deal with Nike would affect the rest of McIlroy’s deals. He has endorsements with Jumeirah Estates, Oakley, Audemares Piguet and Santander bank. Nike typically prefers a clean look for its athletes, with rare exception. Woods and Anthony Kim had separate endorsements for their golf bags.
Even as McIlroy was getting courted by other companies, Titleist did not put up a big fight. The company has a history of putting the brand before the player, as it did with Woods, Mickelson, David Duval after he reached No. 1 in the world and Sergio Garcia.
It prides itself on having the most tour players use its golf ball, though it also has some 80 players around the world under contract to use its golf balls and golf clubs. This year might have been particularly costly, however, especially with incentive clauses in the contracts. It had six players from the top 16 in the world as full staff players — McIlroy, Adam Scott, U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Steve Stricker and Nick Watney.